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Arizona Republicans target Democrat in defamation lawsuit

PHOENIX — Two Republican politicians in Arizona have sued Democratic state Rep. Charlene Fernandez, alleging defamation after she signed a letter with other lawmakers urging the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate their possible connections to the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Rep. Mark Finchem and former Rep. Anthony Kern have said they were outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, when rioters disrupted the certification of the presidential election. Both politicians have denied any wrongdoing.

Fernandez, who lives in Yuma, and the rest of the state House and Senate Democratic caucuses signed the letter and sent it Feb. 12 to FBI Director Christopher Wray and acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen asking for help determining the possible roles of Finchem, Kern and other Republicans in the riot.

Finchem and Kern claimed in the lawsuit filed Friday in Yuma County Superior Court that the letter was a smear and that Fernandez “baselessly” accused them of the “highest possible crimes against the Government of the United States.”

“The purpose of the First Amendment is to facilitate and encourage robust debate. Its purpose is not to encourage or facilitate baseless charges of criminal acts by one’s political adversaries, for base political purposes,” attorney Alexander Kolodin said in the legal claim that included other allegations about the election.

Fernandez was just one of 43 Democratic legislators to sign the letter. It is unclear if Finchem and Kern are expected to file lawsuits against other lawmakers. Lawyers for Finchem and Kern did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit alleges Fernandez co-authored and published the letter, and was motivated by animus, contending she made disparaging comments about Kern, such as accusing him of vindictively holding Democratic bills in a committee he chaired.

Robbie Sherwood, a spokesperson for House Democrats, said Fernandez had not yet been served with a lawsuit.

“I’m sure she will have a response if and when that happens,” he said.

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