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‘Independent audit’ lawyer challenging Fontes for recorder

By: - April 2, 2019 4:26 pm

Stephen Richer. Photo via Steptoe & Johnson LLP

Stephen Richer, the Republican attorney who authored an “independent audit” of Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes commissioned by the Arizona Republican Party that leveled several unsubstantiated allegations against him, is now seeking the office himself.

Richer announced on Tuesday that he’s running for county recorder. If he wins the Republican nomination, he’ll go head to head against the Democratic incumbent he skewered in an audit of the 2018 general election that the Arizona Republican Party commissioned.

The preliminary audit aired several unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and baseless allegations of election fraud and partisanship on Fontes’s part, some of which didn’t even cite a source or origin for the claims. Though Richer labeled the claims as unsubstantiated, some Republicans portrayed them as established fact.

Richer also questioned some of Fontes’s other election-related actions in his report, such as the expanded use of emergency voting centers in 2018, his placement of those centers, and his new policy of reaching out to voters with potentially deficient signatures on their early ballots. Richer concluded in the audit that those policies were questionable but not illegal.

More substantively, Richer’s campaign website took aim at Fontes over his handling of the 2018 primary election. Sixty-two polling places didn’t open on time at 6 a.m. for the Aug. 28 election. All had opened by 11:33 a.m. An audit commissioned by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors put much of the blame on Fontes for a lack of contingency planning, and issues with staffing and training.

Richer noted that Fontes defeated longtime Republican Recorder Helen Purcell in 2016 over criticism of her mishandling of that year’s presidential preference election, which saw some voters forced to wait in lines of more than five hours.

“He wrote the script, right?” Richer told Arizona Mirror.

Richer defended his inclusion of unverified claims in his report, telling the Mirror that people were asking him about them, and that some people would have viewed him as ignoring the issues if he’d omitted them. Nonetheless, he said he was clear in stating that there wasn’t any proof to back up those claims.

“I wouldn’t encourage anyone to jump to conclusions that aren’t fully substantiated,” he said.

The audit report Richer released in January contained only his preliminary findings. He planned a final report after receiving documents he’d requested from Fontes’s office, which he still hasn’t received. But now that he’s running for recorder, Richer said he won’t be involved if the Arizona Republican Party chooses to continue the audit.

Richer said the purpose of the audit wasn’t to attack Fontes in anticipation of a campaign against him.

Richer isn’t the only Republican looking to unseat Fontes. Aaron Flannery, who unsuccessfully challenged Purcell for the GOP nomination in 2016, has filed to run again.

Fontes could not be reached for comment.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”