Stephen Miller’s Legal Group Asks Arizona Supreme Court to Weigh in On Forum Shopping Attempt

America First Legal (AFL), the legal group founded by former Donald Trump advisor Stephen Miller, appealed a ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals that thwarted the group’s attempt to forum shop a controversial election lawsuit into a more favorable jurisdiction. 

In February, AFL filed a lawsuit challenging the election administration procedures in Maricopa County, but the organization quickly withdrew the lawsuit to refile an almost identical one in Coconino and Yavapai Counties, in addition to Maricopa. The move, commonly known as “forum shopping,” was made in hopes that the more conservative Yavapai County would take the case to increase the chance of a more favorable ruling. But the Arizona appeals court ruled that the allegations in the lawsuit that concern Maricopa County should play out in that county. 

But AFL is now asking the state’s highest court to allow the lawsuit to play out in Yavapai County instead of Maricopa. “When multiple counties are sued in the same action, Arizona’s venue statute explains that when ‘several counties are defendants,’ the action ‘may be brought in any one of the counties,’” the petition for review says. 

Democracy Docket will update this article as more information becomes available. 

Original post, May 30

The Arizona Court of Appeals issued an order on Thursday that essentially thwarts a brazen attempt by former Trump advisor Stephen Miller’s America First Legal (AFL) to sue Maricopa County over election administration procedures in a more conservative district. 

AFL’s maneuver, which is known as “forum shopping” — the practice of strategically filing a lawsuit in a jurisdiction more likely to rule favorably — started when the group first filed a lawsuit challenging Maricopa County’s election administration procedures. That lawsuit was filed in a Maricopa County trial court, but AFL quickly withdrew the lawsuit and refiled an almost identical one against Coconino, Maricopa and Yavapai counties in a court in Yavapai County. 

Among the claims made in AFL’s lawsuit are that all three counties have violated a number of state election laws related to signature verification, voter registration cancellations and drop box policies. Though the lawsuit targets three counties in Arizona, AFL singles out Maricopa County — one of the biggest counties in the country — alleging that the county’s election officials have specifically violated state law in relation to ballot reconciliation, chain of custody and software signature verification. 

The lawsuit also accuses Maricopa County of allowing voters to cast their ballots at illegal voting centers distributed throughout Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. The AFL alleges in its lawsuit that these voting centers disenfranchise the county’s white and Native American voters. 

On May 1, the Maricopa County defendants asked the Arizona Court of Appeals to let the lawsuit play out in the county’s jurisdiction rather than in Yavapai County. The judge agreed, writing that “even though Yavapai County and Coconino County also were named… [AFL] improperly filed the special action against Maricopa Petitioners in Yavapai County.”

A likely reason for AFL’s desire for its lawsuit to play out in Yavapai County is because it’s one of the most conservative counties in the state. In an interview earlier this year with former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, Arizona GOP Chair Gina Swoboda mentions that the only two election cases that have “gone their way” were in Yavapai County. “Yavapai is very red. It’s very conservative,” she said.

With the Arizona Court of Appeals’ recent order, AFL could refile its original lawsuit against Maricopa County in a court in Maricopa, although the claims against Coconino and Yavapai will continue in trial court in Yavapai County.

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.