Kari Lake’s lawyers exhibit inexperience with AZ courts and elections laws
The second day of Kari Lake’s second trial aiming to overturn the 2022 election was marked by frequent stops for the judge to explain standard court procedures and Arizona and elections laws to Lake’s attorneys.
Lake, an election denying Republican, lost the governor’s race more than six months ago to Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs. But she has continued to claim that she is the true governor, saying that the election was rigged, and has challenged her 17,000-vote loss.
This is Lake’s second trial in the courtroom of Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson. Lake lost the first trial in December, appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which sent one of her 10 initial claims back to Thompson for further examination and upheld the dismissal of the other nine.
This trial is solely about Maricopa County’s early ballot signature verification efforts. Lake has claimed that the county did not do any certification whatsoever before approving ballots, though her own “whistleblower” witnesses on the first day of the trial testified that they diligently worked to verify those signatures and believed they did their jobs well.
On Thursday, Lake’s lawyers called their expert signature verification witness, Erich Speckin. But shortly after Lake attorney Kurt Olsen had established Speckin’s background, Olsen said he had no further questions for the witness. He quickly tried to take that back, saying he didn’t have more questions for Speckin at that particular moment, but wanted to ask more questions later.
“You said ‘no further questions,’” Thompson told him, explaining to Olsen that, when an attorney utters that phrase, that means they are done questioning the witness.
And lawyers for defendants Hobbs, Secretary of State Adrian Fontes and Maricopa County were not having it.
“It’s not my fault they don’t understand basic procedure,” Craig Morgan, the attorney for the Secretary of State’s Office, said. “He ceded the witness to me, and now it’s my turn to cross-examine or not. That’s how we do this, your honor.”
Olsen asked for Thompson’s indulgence in allowing him to continue and the judge gave it, after admonishing Olsen.
“I feel like I’m teaching a seminar up here,” Thompson said.
The judge added that he was giving Lake’s lawyers some wide latitude because he did not want to risk the appeals or Supreme Court remanding the case back to him a third time.
“I’m not coming back, to be blunt with you, seven months from now, to find another judge disagreed with me,” Thompson said, adding that the prospect was “the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”
Speckin, who has a 30-year history of working as a document analyst and expert witness, previously testified before the joint Arizona House and Senate elections committees on Feb. 23 during an infamous hearing that resulted in the expulsion of the legislator who organized it. During that hearing, Speckin spoke about his involvement in investigating ballot images during the Arizona Senate’s partisan “audit” of the 2020 general election in Maricopa County.
Before the trial that began Wednesday, Thompson put Lake on notice that, to win her case, she would have to prove that Maricopa County conducted no signature verification efforts and that those efforts definitively changed the outcome of the election. Signature verifiers compare the signatures on ballot envelopes to those on file for that voter. If a signature is rejected by initial reviewers, it is sent to more experienced workers for a deeper examination.
Speckin told the court that, after reviewing and analyzing data that logged keystrokes of workers verifying mail-in ballot signatures for the November 2022 election, he believes it was impossible to verify signatures in the amount of time some of the reviewers were taking to do the task. Some of them verified the signatures in just two seconds.
But Co-Maricopa County Elections Director Rey Valenzuela later pointed out that Arizona law doesn’t specify the required amount of time that a reviewer must spend looking at a signature. He added that, according to state law, those comparing the ballot signatures with those on file for the voter only have to determine if the two are consistent, not that they were an exact match.
Speckin admitted to Maricopa County Attorney Joseph LaRue that he could not say with 100% certainty that no signature verification occurred in Maricopa County during and after the 2022 general election.
After Lake rested her case Thursday afternoon, the defendants asked the judge to immediately rule against Lake, saying she had not met her burden of proof.
Elena Rodriguez, an attorney representing Hobbs, told the judge he should dismiss the case because none of Lake’s witnesses proved that Maricopa County did not conduct signature verification.
“Indeed, testimony at trial this far supports the opposite,” Rodriguez said.
Two of Lake’s witnesses on the first day of the trial worked as initial signature reviewers — known as level one reviewers — during the November 2022 election, and both testified that they verified signatures themselves.
Olsen countered that simply looking at a computer screen with a signature for a few seconds did not equal signature verification.
“This is the first level of security to ensure illegal or fraudulent ballots are not injected into the system,” Olsen said. “Evidence shows that you cannot compare signatures in less than 3 seconds.”
Thompson denied the defense’s motion for him to rule against Lake, so the defendants began to present their case Thursday afternoon, with Valenzuela testifying that when two signatures are obviously consistent, it could take as little as two or three seconds to verify.
The trial recessed for the day at 4:30 p.m. Thursday and was set to resume at 9 a.m. Friday, with the defense continuing to question Valenzuela, their only witness.
***CORRECTION: This article has been corrected to show that Lake is challenging the results of the 2022 election.