Lawyer for Arizona Senate election audit firm wants to quit
PHOENIX (AP) — The attorney representing the private company that oversaw the Arizona Senate’s partisan review of Maricopa County’s 2020 election results is trying to quit after a series of losses in cases brought by groups seeking records of the “audit.”
The move to withdraw by attorney Jack Wilenchik is opposed by American Oversight, a government watchdog group that has for months been seeking records held by Florida-based Cyber Ninjas.
American Oversight’s lawyer said in a court filing Monday that allowing Wilenchik to quit will just delay resolution of the case and prevent the public from knowing how the Senate and its contractors conducted the review. And it said he has not given the court any reason to allow such delay and has continued his “pugnacious approach” to defending his client in the face of repeated losses and court orders to hand over the records.
“In sum, the jig is up, and Cyber Ninjas’ longstanding effort to avoid disclosure of public records relating to the audit would seem to be finally coming to an end,” American Oversight attorney Keith Beauchamp wrote. “But Wilenchik’s eleventh-hour maneuver to avoid production could thwart this Court’s orders because, of course, Cyber Ninjas cannot appear except through counsel.”
Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan has been called to give a deposition to American Oversight’s lawyers on Jan. 5.
Wilenchik didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to calls and emails seeking comment. A spokesman for Logan, Rod Thomson, said he would not comment on legal matters.
The Arizona Republic has a separate lawsuit against the Senate and Cyber Ninjas seeking records the firm holds related to the audit. Wilenchik is also asking a judge to allow him to quit representing them in that case.
The Republic’s attorneys also oppose Wilenchik’s withdrawal, saying it came a day after they sent him a letter informing him that they would seek sanctions against his firm because Cyber Ninjas had not complied with court orders to turn over documents to the Senate.
“The Wilenchik Firm’s attempted ... withdrawal shortly after its receipt of this letter may be its attempt to escape this Court’s oversight to avoid such sanctions,” attorney Craig Hoffman wrote in a court filing Tuesday. “Such an effort should not be facilitated by the Court’s granting of the motion.”
Hoffman noted that Wilenchik had not served his Dec. 21 notice of withdrawal on the Republic’s attorney and they were forced to go to the courthouse to retrieve it on Tuesday.
In the American Oversight case, Wilenchik only cited “professional considerations” as a reason to quit. But he was more explicit in the Arizona Republic case, saying he hadn’t been paid.
Cyber Ninjas has argued for months that it is not subject to the public records law because it is a private company. Two different judges and the Arizona Court of Appeals have ruled that records Cyber Ninjas possesses that have a “substantial nexus” to the audit are public and must be released. They held that the “audit” done for Senate Republicans after former President Donald Trump lost in Arizona to President Joe Biden was a core government function and that makes the records public.
Cyber Ninjas is asking the state Supreme Court to overrule the Court of Appeals decision, and Wilenchik has not withdrawn from that case. The high court has declined to put the lower court orders on hold and could consider the appeal next month. In the meantime, Cyber Ninjas still has not provided the records to the Senate so it can release them.
Wilenchik told a judge last month that Cyber Ninjas has no money and can’t afford to pay for the review or redaction of records.
Cyber Ninjas has released some documents but maintains it is doing so voluntarily. Among them is a financial statement suggesting the ballot review cost nearly $9 million. Cyber Ninjas received $5.7 million from political groups led by Trump allies who have aggressively promoted the former president’s false claims that the election was stolen from him, along with $1 million paid by donors directly to subcontractors. Altogether, Cyber Ninjas reported a net loss of more than $2 million from the audit.
The audit, released in September, found that Biden got 360 more votes in Maricopa County than initially reported out of 2.1 million ballots cast. It produced no proof to support Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, and experts described it as riddled with errors, bias and flawed methodology.
A final review of some computer logs has not yet been completed.