Kari Lake and her allies have spent the last couple of days criticizing anyone who said she had given up on defending herself in a defamation suit filed by Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer. 

“Everything I’ve ever said about the elections is true and I stand by it,” Lake said in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday. 

But the judge presiding over the case reminded Lake and her attorneys in a Wednesday filing exactly what a default judgment means. Lake automatically defaulted in the case when she missed a March 25 deadline to respond to Richer’s defamation claims, but filed a separate motion on March 26 asking for a default judgment and for Richer to prove to a jury that he was owed damages. 

“It is worth noting that — pursuant to well-established Arizona law — a defaulted party loses all rights to litigate the merits of the cause of action,” Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jay Adleman wrote

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In a video posted to social media, Lake tried to convince her followers that she was simply refusing to participate in the litigation, which she called a political “witch hunt.” But in reality, she’ll be compelled to continue participating and, by defaulting, she’s essentially admitting to the court that all of Richer’s claims are true. 

Richer filed the suit against Lake in June 2023 after months of attacks from Lake and her supporters, who claimed without evidence that he was somehow involved in rigging the November 2022 election against Lake and other Republicans running for statewide office. 

Lake and Richer are both Republicans, but Richer and members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors became favorite targets for election deniers who were convinced that Republican candidates for statewide office like Lake, Abe Hamadeh and Mark Finchem, could not have lost unless some kind of fraud took place. 

As a result of this, Richer said he and his family were subjected to months of threats, harassment and intimidation. 

“While I followed the law and respected the will of millions of Arizona voters after the 2022 election, the defendants chose to engage in a concerted campaign to destroy my reputation, threaten my livelihood, and rob me and my loved ones of our safety and well-being,” Richer said in a statement when he filed the suit. 

Since then, Lake has repeatedly said that she was ready to fight Richer’s suit, and just two months ago she wrote on social media that she was looking forward to the discovery process, wherein both sides would have to turn over things like texts and emails pertinent to the case. 

That’s one of the reasons she and her attorneys’ decision to essentially concede that Richer’s claims are true seemed so abrupt. 

“Of course it’s surprising she decided not to defend herself,” one of Richer’s attorneys, Jared Davidson, told the Arizona Mirror. “It’s not so surprising in so far that our claims are based on well settled law. The fact remains that Ms. Lake had the opportunity to present evidence to show her receipts and to back up her false accusations and she’s refused to do so.”

Keeping in mind that Lake has failed in all of her election contests so far, Davidson said he wasn’t surprised that she couldn’t provide any evidence that her claims about Richer were true. Because Richer is a public figure, he would have a much higher bar than a private citizen in proving defamation. In defamation cases, public figures must prove that those who defamed them did so with “actual malice,” which means she knew they were false or acted with reckless disregard as to whether they were false. 

The accusations that Lake made against Richer are some of the same ones she made in her court challenge to the results of the 2022 election that she lost to Democrat Gov. Katie Hobbs by more than 17,000 votes, and judges at every level of the Arizona judicial system dismissed those claims, saying she had no evidence. 

Lake took to conservative podcasts and radio shows this week to put her spin on the default judgment, telling former Donald Trump aide Steve Bannon that the defamation suit was simply an effort to distract her from her campaign for U.S. Senate. She claimed that Richer and Ruben Gallego, her Democratic opponent in the Senate race, were both being backed by liberal Jewish philanthropist George Soros and that they were working together to ensure Gallego is elected. 

Richer filed the defamation suit in June, a month after Lake lost her second election challenge trial and about four months prior to her announcing her run for Senate. 

“I just said, ‘Cut to the chase, what are the damages? Where did my words hurt you?’” Lake told Bannon. “My words are true, but how did they hurt you? You had mental issues because of it. Show us what drugs you’re on, we’ll reimburse you for the drugs.”

Phoenix personal injury lawyer and frequent Lake critic Tom Ryan theorized that Lake’s decision to default was actually an attempt to avoid the discovery of evidence process, but Adleman’s filing on Wednesday made clear that, if that is her strategy, it probably won’t work. 

In the filing, Adleman instructed both sides to meet and discuss whether Richer would like to engage in discovery of evidence to determine damages, among other things. 

Last week Richer asked the court to sanction Lake and her attorneys for what he characterized as “stalling” the case by refusing to meet with his attorneys and for canceling meetings because they were unprepared. 

Adleman denied that request, saying that Lake’s appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court of his December decision not to dismiss the case had likely held up her lawyers’ ability to move forward. 

He also did not grant Lake’s Tuesday request to set a scheduling hearing within the next five days, with the hope of speeding up the case so that it concludes before this year’s primary and general elections. Adleman instead ordered the attorneys to work together on scheduling and set the next hearing in the case for April 24. 

In a December hearing during which Lake attempted to get the case dismissed, Wright argued that Lake’s claims about Richer were “rhetorical hyperbole” and not meant to be taken as facts

When Lake said that Richer was somehow involved in the illegal injection of bogus ballots or that he “sabotaged” the election, those statements weren’t meant to be taken as facts, Wright said. 

“Those are her opinions about the facts,” Wright told the court. 

The next day Adleman ruled that Lake’s statements were not hyperbole and that the case would move forward, saying that Richer had provided sufficient evidence that Lake made “false and defamatory statements” about him. 

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