After Kari Lake’s attorneys made mistakes at her trial, the judge showed them leniency. Here’s why

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson || CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Stacey Barchenger

Arizona Republic

The key witness in Republican candidate Kari Lake’s trial seeking to set aside her November loss to Gov. Katie Hobbs had testified for 40 minutes about his background and training when Lake’s lawyer said he had no further questions.

But the witness hadn’t yet laid out his claims that workers processed ballot envelopes so quickly it couldn’t count as signature verification, the main purpose of his involvement in the case. The seemingly final statement from Lake’s lawyer sent whispers through the courtroom.

Lake supporters sitting in the public gallery wondered if lawyer Kurt Olsen had just rested the case.

Attorneys for the county quickly asked for a five-minute recess — a huddle to consider how to respond. When they returned, they argued that the judge shouldn’t allow Olsen to ask more questions, citing Arizona’s rules of court procedure. Olsen countered that when he said he was done asking questions, he only meant preliminary questions to establish the witness as an expert.

Olsen’s mistake could have submarined his case. But Maricopa Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson ultimately allowed more questions to “protect the record.”

Attorney Kurt Olsen during his opening statement in Kari Lake’s election challenge trial on May 17, 2023, in Maricopa County Superior Court in Mesa, Ariz.

The moment demonstrated just how careful Thompson, who was appointed in 2010 by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, was in overseeing a case whose resolution has taken an unusually long time and that ended up in his courtroom for trial twice in just six months. Thompson acknowledged the risk of future appeals plainly from the bench as he overruled the county’s objection and gave Olsen the greenlight to continue.

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