Eric Kurland John Kavanagh Joseph Chaplik

Two lawsuits filed by state legislative candidate Joseph Chaplik against political rivals have exposed infighting in the local Republican party in the months leading up to the General Election.

Chaplik is running for one of two seats representing Legislative District 23 after he defeated incumbent Rep. Jay Lawrence in the primary.

Chaplik will face incumbent Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, and challenger Eric Kurland, a Democrat on the Nov. 3 ballot.

LD23 covers most of Scottsdale along with Fountain Hills and Rio Verde.

Scottsdale Republican Joe Romack also filed to run in the race as a write-in candidate.

Maricopa County Superior Court records show that Chaplik filed separate lawsuits in August against Lawrence and Romack, alleging both men defamed him in statements and social media posts alluding to a now-resolved IRS tax lien against him.

Romack denied the allegations and countersued Chaplik, claiming he only filed the suit to discourage criticism and wanted to paint his political opponents as bullies.

“We believe the lawsuit is an attempt to silence citizens who may disagree with Joseph Chaplik politically, through threatened or actual litigation,” said attorney Steven M. Jackson, who is representing Romack. “This action is an attempt to bully, harass, and threaten Joe Romack, who was just a private citizen when Joseph Chaplik filed the matter.”

Chaplik’s lawsuits alleged that Romack and Lawrence called him “a tax deadbeat, tax cheat and criminal” at a meeting of the Fountain Hills Republican Club in June.

Chaplik also alleged Lawrence made similar claims in campaign mailers and other communications.

Lawrence did not respond to a request for comment but denied the allegations in court.

Chaplik also accused Romack of using two anonymous Twitter accounts to smear him, alleging he was behind two anonymous Twitter accounts with the usernames @JChapstick69 and @ChapstickJoseph.

Both accounts made posts alluding to the tax lien or alleging he does not pay taxes.

“You know what they should teach in school? How to pay your taxes. You could have used a course like that, since ya know, you didn’t pay your taxes,” read a post by @JChapstick69 directed to Chaplik’s authentic account.

Chaplik’s complaint said the statements are false and constituted libel but Romack’s attorney denied his client is behind the Twitter accounts.

“Joe Romack is not the owner of that account(s) and we don’t know why Joseph Chaplik would believe he is,” Jackson said. “My client had no personal contact regarding the accounts or allegations with Joseph Chaplik prior to his filing this lawsuit.”

Lawrence also fired back on social media, alleging Chaplik’s attorney offered to drop the lawsuit if Lawrence endorsed Chaplik and gave away his campaign mailing list.

“That’s extortion and a felony,” Lawrence posted on his personal Facebook page on Sept. 22.

Chaplik’s attorney Mark Goldman said he did not believe the scenario laid out by Lawrence constituted felony extortion under state law.

“Based upon any review of that statute, it’s exceedingly clear that, even if I did make such an offer on behalf of Mr. Chaplik to Mr. Lawrence, it would not be and could not be extortion,” Goldman said in an email to the Progress. “Based upon the foregoing, Mr. Chaplik did not commit a felony.”

Goldman did not respond to a follow-up question asking to clarify whether or not he offered to drop the suit in exchange for an endorsement.

This is not the first time Goldman has been accused of helping party allies smear political opponents.

In 2010, Phoenix New Times reported that Goldman likely participated in an attempted prosecution of former Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and then-County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

The prosecution, and others like it, ultimately led a three-judge disciplinary panel to disbar Thomas and Lisa Aubuchon, a deputy county attorney, in 2012 for violating ethical codes of conduct.

A report by John Gleason, an independent investigator, found that Goldman had passed out information on Stapley to a Sheriff’s Department anti-corruption task force.

The report also found that either Aubuchon or Goldman likely initiated the investigation into Stapley.

The lawsuits are the latest example of infighting in the local Republican Party that has gone on for much of the election.

Throughout the primary, incumbents Kavanagh and Lawrence sparred with Chaplik, going so far as to set up the domain nochaplik.com, according to a post by Kavanagh on republicanbriefs.org, an online sounding board for Republican candidates and supporters.

The nochaplik.com website has since been disabled. 

In a statement on his campaign’s Facebook page in June, Chaplik addressed much of the criticism posted to the noChaplik.com website, including his tax history. 

“Successful businesses large and small with real estate holdings routinely enter into installment plans for taxes owed,” Chaplik wrote. “My agreement was entered into on Oct 11 and (as my opponents failed to admit) was paid in full on Oct 28. All my taxes are paid.”

According to Maricopa County Recorder’s Office records, the Internal Revenue service filed a tax lien against Chaplik on Oct. 22, 2018 for non-payment of a 2016 tax assessment totaling $53,296.

Chaplik has since paid off the assessment, according to a letter releasing the lien signed by an IRS operations manager in December 2018.

The sparring has concerned some local Republicans as the party fights to defend the two legislative seats that have been considered safely Republican for decades.

But this year, Kurland has out-fundraised both Kavanagh and Chaplik, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

In 2018, Kurland ran against Kavanagh and Lawrence and lost the second seat to Lawrence by three percentage points.

LD 23 GOP Chair Nancy Ordowski did not respond to a request to comment.

The local party endorses both Kavanagh and Chaplik in a voter guide and leadership encouraged members to put differences aside and support the slate.

In a newsletter sent to members in September, First Vice Chairman Rob Swoboda compared the election to a house fire and the candidates to a “bucket brigade.”

“So, Alex Kolodin must hand the bucket to Michelle Ugenti-Rita who hands it to Sheriff Joe who hands it to Jerry Sheridan who hands it to Jay Lawrence who enthusiastically hands it to Joseph Chaplik,” Swoboda wrote.

“We all must actively support our candidates in the general election especially those who were not our choice in the primary,” Swoboda added. “We must not lose a single race to the Democrat!”