Arizona judge recuses himself from ballot audit case less than 24 hrs before scheduled hearing

A municipal county judge overseeing disputes involving a Republican state Senate-led audit of 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County during the 2020 election recused himself from the case on Sunday after the firm contracted to conduct the audit retained a lawyer who once clerked for him.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury stepped aside “less than 24 hours before” a scheduled 11 a.m. hearing on Monday, reported KPNX-TV correspondent Brahm Resnik on Twitter.

He identified the attorney in question as Chris Viskovic, who clerked for Coury within the past five years. Under Arizona statutes, the judge is required to recuse himself.

Resnik later reported that Viskovic was retained by CyberNinja, the firm that state Senate Republicans retained to conduct the audit, though some outlets falsely reported that Viskovic had been hired by Democrats to purposefully sideline the judge, who is a Republican.

As the GOP-led audit of ballots was set to begin on Thursday, Democrats filed suit to stop it, arguing that Republicans had not provided enough security to protect both ballots and the identities of the voters who cast them. The suit, which was filed by the Arizona Democratic Party and the lone Democrat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Steve Gallardo, alleged that Republican pledges made by Senate President Karen Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen to protect voter privacy and ballot secrecy were “illusory” because they outsourced the audit to CyberNinja.

The suit further alleged that a lack of transparency would cause “irreparable harm to the integrity of Arizona’s election systems” as well as the privacy guaranteed to Arizona voters by law.

“The sole reason for this lawsuit and injunctions is to protect the sanctity of the ballots and more importantly to preserve voters’ privacy from a sham audit that has been corrupted by agitators and conspiracy theorists,” Gallardo wrote on Twitter.

Coury said he would issue a temporary order halting the audit if Democrats put up $1 million to cover the costs of delaying the proceedings, as well as instructing CyberNinja to provide the court with their security protocols over the weekend.

“I do not want to micromanage and it is not the posture of this court to micromanage or even to manage the process by which another branch of government, the Legislature, the Arizona state senate proceeds,” the judge said last week.

Democrats, however, failed to post the bond, so the audit continued.

In response, the Arizona Republican Party has filed a motion with the state Supreme Court asserting that under the Constitution’s separation of powers, state courts have no authority to intervene in a legislature-led audit of ballots, according to a video update posted by Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward on Saturday.

“Next week the Arizona Supreme Court will rule on a motion brought by the Arizona Senate that the courts do not have the authority to infringe upon the Senate’s ability to manage the audit as they see fit and that any civil action by the Democrats to stop the audit through continued court action crosses the line of separation of powers afforded by the United States Constitution,” she said.

Ward went on to note that Democrats, in the meantime, have launched “a nationwide campaign” to discredit the audit and to cast doubt on its outcome, which the GOP chair suggested would indicate widespread fraud.

“It’s about controlling the narrative and now keeping power at all costs,” Ward said.

It’s not clear who will be taking over the case, but Resnik reported that the audit was resuming Monday.

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Jon Dougherty

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