State Rep. Charlene Fernandez (D-Yuma) responded to a defamation lawsuit filed against her by three Arizona Republican leaders by asking the court to dismiss it. U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ-04), State Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley) and former State Rep. Anthony Kern (R-Phoenix) filed the lawsuit against her due to a letter she sent on February 12 to the FBI and Department of Justice along with the rest of the Democrats in the Arizona Legislature asking the agencies to investigate the men about their role on January 6 at the U.S. Capitol protest. The three were at the Capitol that day but did not participate in the unauthorized entry of the building or aggressive behavior.
Kern told The Arizona Sun Times, “The untrue accusations leveled by Charlene Fernandez have played a part in my inability to find law enforcement opportunities.”
Finchem told National File that “it’s been horrible” dealing with the accusations. “They’ve destroyed my character in the public eye. They’ve destroyed my reputation, and all of it is a big lie.” He also told The Sun Times, “People must be held accountable for lying with the intention to destroy other people. ”
Fernandez’s letter stated that the three, along with Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05), who did not join in the lawsuit, “publicly advocated for the overthrow of the election results which encouraged precisely the kind of violence that we witnessed.” It said they “actively encouraged the mob, both before and during the attack on the Capitol,” and “encouraged, facilitated, participated and possibly helped plan this anti-democratic insurrection.”
The letter concludes accusing the three of serious crimes.
“Expeditious timing of this request is crucial, as if you find any evidence that these individuals incited, encouraged, or participated in the lawless behaviour that took place on that day, we believe they would potentially be criminally liable and ineligible for public office under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as having engaged in insurrection and rebellion,” the letter says.
Finchem had been invited to speak at the January 6 rally but ended up being canceled. Kern, who comes from a law enforcement background, tweeted his disapproval of the violence on January 7, retweeting Biggs. Finchem published a press release on January 11 denying allegations in the press that he was involved in the rioting.
The three’s lawsuit, which was filed on February 26, says Fernandez knew their actions did not go beyond merely attending the protest, so they believe her actions rise to the level of “actual malice,” the standard necessary for public officials to prove defamation. It points out that Fernandez used the official state seal on the letterhead, falsely giving the impression that it was a criminal referral from the Arizona Legislature.
The suit characterizes her letter, “It was … a personal act that was maliciously intended to take base political advantage of the reprehensible criminal conduct of those who rioted on Capitol Hill and invaded the Capitol itself in Washington DC on January 6, 2021.”
The lawsuit says that even though Fernandez’s letter states the evidence is in their social media posts, she failed to cite a single instance of any of the three inciting violence, not even “a single social media post.”
Fernandez cites a video made by activist Ali Alexander discussing planning the events of January 6 with Gosar and Biggs, but the lawsuit refutes it by pointing out that Alexander did not call for violence. In it, Alexander stated that the purpose of the protest was to “change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were [in Congress] hearing our loud roar from outside.”
In the lawsuit, Kern hinted that Fernandez’s motivation for the letter was part of a pattern of her animosity towards him. He wrote, “Prior to publishing her defamatory comments, Defendant had a prior history of making disparaging comments about Plaintiff Kern, including accusing him of being vindictive for holding Democratic bills as rules chairman. In addition, Defendant had previously called for his removal from that position.”
Kern told The Sun Times that her accusation wasn’t true. One Democrat-sponsored bill he allowed through would have upped the penalty for anyone who assaulted a nurse.
Kern said, “She is no longer the minority leader in the House because she’s so vindictive, hateful, vengeful and divisive in her own party – much less her spite against the Republicans. Any time she can jump on and defame a Republican she’ll jump on that train.”
The three are requesting damages and a court order requiring Fernandez “to publish a full retraction of the false and malicious allegations” in the letter to the federal agencies.
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