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Lake lawyers await discipline for making false claims to AZ Supreme Court

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Lake lawyers await discipline for making false claims to AZ Supreme Court

Jun 03, 2024 | 1:59 pm ET
By Caitlin Sievers
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Lake lawyers await discipline for making false claims to AZ Supreme Court
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Attorney for Kari Lake, Kurt Olsen argues her election challenge appeal case in front of Arizona's District Two Court of Appeals in Tucson on May 2, 2024. Screenshot courtesy of the Arizona Court of Appeals.

As Republican Kari Lake continues her campaign for U.S. Senate, the lawyers who represented the Republican in her failed effort to overturn the results of the 2022 election for Arizona governor are both facing court discipline. 

Presiding Disciplinary Judge Margaret Downie has already found that both attorneys who worked on the election challenge trial and appeals — Washington, D.C., employment attorney Kurt Olsen and Scottsdale divorce lawyer Bryan Blehm — violated their ethical obligations during the proceedings. 

They’re both accused of submitting information they knew was false to the Arizona Supreme Court. During the appeals of Lake’s election challenges, they told the court that it was “an undisputed fact” that more than 35,000 illegal ballots were inserted into the count in the 2022 general election in Maricopa County. 

But they provided no evidence of their claim, and the state and county have repeatedly denied that it happened, so both attorneys were ordered by the state’s high court last year to pay $2,000 in sanctions for making “false factual statements to the Court.” 

Olsen argued in filings to Downie that it wasn’t he and Blehm who misled the court with false statements, but Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, when she said Maricopa County would know if anyone tried to mix illegal ballots in with legitimate ones. 

Hobbs and the county contended, and the court ultimately agreed, that Olsen came to the conclusion that 35,000 illegal ballots were cast by erroneously comparing an estimate of the number of ballots that arrived to be counted on election night 2022 with the official count. 

Olsen faces the possibility of additional discipline for his part in another Lake lawsuit that she and then-candidate for Arizona Secretary of State Mark Finchem filed in spring 2022 in an attempt to stop Maricopa and Pima counties from using electronic tabulators to count ballots in the November 2022 election. 

The two candidates claimed that the electronic tabulators were “hackable” and asked the courts to place an injunction on their use ahead of the November 2022 election. Arizona law requires their use.

In August 2022, U.S. District Court Judge John Tuchi threw out the tabulator case and issued a scathing ruling, saying that Lake and Finchem’s claims amounted to mere “conjectural allegations of potential injuries.” He later ordered $122,000 in sanctions against the attorneys in the case.

In October 2023, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concurred with Tuchi’s decision to throw out the case, agreeing that it was “frivolous.”  

In the fall of 2023, the State Bar of Arizona began investigating Olsen, Blehm and Minnesota attorney Andrew Parker, who also represented Lake and Finchem in the tabulator case, for violating their ethical obligations as attorneys practicing law in the Grand Canyon State. 

Finchem and Lake tried to bring the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court this spring, but the court rejected their request

Because Olsen is licensed to practice law in Maryland, and was admitted to practice in Arizona only in these specific cases, the harshest possible punishment he faces is a formal reprimand, according to Arizona State Bar spokesman Joe Hengemuehler. 

Maryland’s Attorney Grievance Counsel did not respond to a request from the Arizona Mirror inquiring whether a formal reprimand in Arizona would impact his ability to practice law in Maryland. 

In preparing to defend himself in both disciplinary cases against him, Olsen attempted to subpoena evidence from both the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, as well as the Arizona Senate, including thumb drives that the county provided to the Senate for its partisan review of the 2020 election results. 

Both entities fought the subpoenas, although the Senate said in a letter that it supported Olsen’s right to obtain access to the evidence but thought that the county — as the owner of the evidence — should supply it. 

“The Senate is troubled by the increasing weaponization of judicial, criminal, and bar disciplinary processes for political retribution, and fully supports Mr. Olsen’s right to access documents and information that are necessary to his defense,” Phoenix election attorney Kory Langhofer wrote on behalf of the Arizona Senate in a Feb. 23 letter to the Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee. 

The county objected to the subpoena, claiming the information that Olsen sought was irrelevant to the Bar complaint against him and had already been litigated at trial. Downie ultimately agreed with the county and quashed both of the subpoenas. 

The Bar on April 24 asked Downie to make a judgment in the case based on Olsen’s misrepresentation of the facts of the case and the law to the district court, when he falsely said that Arizona’s tabulators were connected to the internet. They are prohibited from being connected to the internet, and the Senate’s “audit” of the 2020 election in Maricopa County confirmed the tabulators were never online.

The Bar also asked the judge to consider Olsen’s argument that banning the use of tabulators in Maricopa and Pima counties in the 2022 election would “cause little, if any, harm to Defendants” when that is obviously not the case. Nearly all of the ballots voted in those counties are counted using tabulators and the majority of the election leaders in the state have continually argued that a hand count would be costly, inaccurate and a logistical nightmare

In his arguments in the tabulator case, Olsen even used the Senate’s so-called audit as a “proof-of-concept (for hand counting ballots) and a superior alternative to relying on corruptible electronic voting systems.” 

Senior Counsel for the Bar, Hunter Perlmeter argued adamantly against Olsen’s assertion about the audit. 

“The Cyber Ninjas (the firm that conducted the audit) counted only two contests (of more than 60 on each ballot), it took them more than three months, it cost millions of dollars, they claim that they went bankrupt as a result, and the hand count results were so problematic, the Arizona Senate was forced to purchase paper-counting machines in an attempt to reconcile the hand counts’ botched numbers,” Perlmeter wrote. 

He added that the bungled “audit” was actually proof of why ordering a hand count six months before a midterm election was undoable. 

“(Olsen’s) conduct caused actual harm by attacking the integrity of Arizona voting systems based on a distorted view of the applicable facts and law that undermined public confidence in the system, and burdened the defendants and the court in addressing Respondent’s claims,” Perlmeter wrote. “(Olsen) also sought relief that could have imposed substantially greater injury on the defendants and the public.”

Downie issued a partial judgment in the election results challenge case on April 30, agreeing with the Bar that Olsen had failed to abide by ethical rules for lawyers in Arizona. She has not yet issued a judgment in the tabulator case, but hearings in the case are set for June 25-June 27. 

A hearing for Olsen and the Bar to plead their cases when it comes to discipline recommendations for the election challenge case is set for July 30. 

Blehm, Olsen’s co-counsel in that case, skipped out on his own such hearing on May 21 and then later posted a video of himself gesturing to the Bar with his middle finger. The Bar asked for the court to suspend his law license for six months and one day, but Downie has not yet made a decision on what kind of discipline he will face.

***UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect that hearings in the tabulator case are set for June 25-June 27.