'Free Speech Defender' Devin Nunes Sues More Critics, Promises More Such Lawsuits Are Coming
from the slappity-slapp-slapp dept
As we pointed out recently, last year, Devin Nunes co-sponsored a bill discouraging frivolous lawsuits. He also voted for a House Amendment to protect free speech. And then he started filing frivolous lawsuits against critics and the media for exercising their free speech rights to criticize (or even mock him). He sued Twitter and some satirical Twitter accounts, as well as a political consultant, Liz Mair, who has criticized and mocked Nunes. He also sued news giant McClatchy (and Liz Mair a second time) for writing an article he felt was unfair.
And, just this week he said he has more lawsuits planned:
?We have probably another three to five lawsuits that we?ll be filing and it?s all about, as you know, I?ve been maliciously attacked by the media. They?ve tied me to things that are just simply straight up defamation and slander,? he said. ?If you go and Google right now, you do a Google search, virtually every story is either not true or it?s based off of a previous story that wasn?t true and so the only way I can clear my name up is through the courts.?
And, good as his word, he’s already filed at least one of those lawsuits. As the Fresno Bee (the McClatchy paper he’s suing over an earlier story) notes, Nunes (or, actually, his campaign) has filed another lawsuit against more of his critics:
Rep. Devin Nunes? campaign is suing the people who accused the congressman of being a ?fake farmer? and tried to get his ballot designation removed, alleging they conspired with ?dark money? groups to injure the campaign.
The lawsuit, filed in Tulare County Superior Court on Thursday, alleges the group also targeted Nunes? wife, Elizabeth, by seeking public records requests for her school emails that were costly to produce and resulted in harassment to innocent teachers and school administrators.
The Nunes campaign also accuses Andrew Janz?s congressional campaign of ?mirroring? super PAC spending.
You can read the complaint here, which is filed by the same lawyer, Steven Bliss, as the previous two lawsuits. Notably, this lawsuit was filed in California state court. The previous two lawsuits were filed in Virginia, likely as a means of evading California’s anti-SLAPP statute.
That’s why it’s quite interesting that this lawsuit was filed in California. Given that all the defendants are based in California, it’s likely that Nunes recognized he couldn’t file this case elsewhere — though it might also explain why this case is filed by his campaign, rather than himself (as the other lawsuits were). However, it does mean that this case is absolutely subject to California’s anti-SLAPP laws and could very well mean that Nunes’ campaign ends up having to pay the legal fees, should it be judged to be a SLAPP suit. And this lawsuit has many of the hallmarks of a classic SLAPP suit. An elected official, a very public official, suing some critics for their speech criticizing him? Classic SLAPP.
In this case, the lawsuit is even stranger, as the campaign is — get this — arguing “tortious interference with business.” Yes, he’s arguing that his political critics have gotten in the way of the “business expectancies” of his campaign. Think about that.
The Defendants intentionally interfered with Plaintiff Nunes Campaign Committee’s property rights, business expectancies and prospective advantages by, inter alia, devising, aiding, abetting and actively participating in the coordinated scheme to interfere with and injure the Nunes Campaign. The Defendants acted as stooges of Fight Back California and others, and used improper methods in furtherance of the conspiracy, including acts and practices that were, inter alia, unethical, oppressive, over-reaching, fraudulent, hostile, and sharp. Defendants knew and/or should have known that Plaintiff Nunes Campaign Committee?s relationship with the candidate Nunes would be disrupted by their acts.
43. As a direct result of the Defendants? tortious interference with Plaintiff Nunes Campaign Committee?s valid business expectations and prospective economic advantages, Plaintiff Nunes Campaign Committee suffered damage and incurred loss including, without limitation, loss of income and business, damage to its reputation, prestige and standing, disruption of its relationship with candidate Nunes, special damages, court costs, and other out- of-pocket expenses.
Dude. You’re a politician in a political campaign. Of course those who oppose you are seeking to hurt your campaign. Just like your own campaigning sought to stop your opponent’s campaign. He’s literally suing because people who were against his candidacy engaged in practices that he deems to be “sharp.” Isn’t he part of the Republican Party that always mocks “snowflakes” who can’t take “sharp” criticisms?
The rest of the lawsuit appears to be nonsense as well. The only other claim besides the tortious interference one is a laughable “conspiracy” claim. Yes, Devin, people were “conspiring” to elect someone else. If that violates the law, so does your own “conspiring” to win your campaign.
Beginning in June 2018 and continuing through November 6, 2018, the Defendants coordinated, combined, associated, agreed or acted in concert together and with others, including Fight Back California and one or more federal political campaigns, for the express purposes of injuring the Plaintiff Nunes Campaign Committee and intentionally and unlawfully impeding and interfering with the Plaintiff Nunes Campaign Committee’s business. In furtherance of the conspiracy and preconceived plan, the Defendants and their agents knowingly engaged in a joint, coordinated scheme the unlawful purpose of which was to advance the goals of the dark money actually behind the so-called “ethics” complaints and Petition, interfere with Plaintiff Nunes Campaign Committee’s efforts to support the Nunes candidacy, and “flip” the 22nd District.
He’s literally suing over them filing an ethics complaint against him. This is like the quintessential version of what a SLAPP suit is — one in which a public official sues a critic over petitioning the government. I’d be amazed if the defendants don’t move to strike under California’s anti-SLAPP law and seek their legal fees from Nunes’ campaign.
Much of the rest of the filing is, as his previous ones, performative, rather than making any reasonable legal claims. Yes, sometimes in campaigns, those who disagree with you do things to try to make you look bad. And, yes, there are reasonable concerns about “dark money” in campaigns — but I thought it was the Republicans who supported things like Citizens United and the ability to use Super PACs and dark money. Of course, what’s amusing is how much this complaint’s whining about “dark money” seem to mirror the complaints Nunes’ critics make about dark money in his campaign. Indeed, last year, the group “Anybody But Nunes” put out a document raising questions about Nunes’ fundraising practices. It calls for an FEC investigation into his own fundraising practices, highlighting an article that the FEC had started investigating his campaign for possible campaign finance violations, though those appear to be focused on a few donations that may have exceeded federal contribution limits.
Though, there are some other eyebrow raising points to look at. The Open Secrets page about how much Nunes’ campaign has raised, sure is interesting. Which one of these is unlike the others:
Of course, in 2018, Nunes was in a much closer political fight than in previous election years — and also was much more prominent in his role (at the time) as chair of the House Intelligence Committee. So, it certainly could be nothing, but to argue that people questioning that or filing complaints is somehow “tortious interference” or a “conspiracy” is crazy.
Furthermore, at least those critics did the right thing, asking the Federal Elections Committee to investigate, not suing in court. Nunes is making all these claims of potential violations of FEC or IRS rules regarding dark money, but this isn’t requesting either agency to investigate — it’s suing the individuals for interfering in his campaign’s “business expectancies.”
A big part of the underlying story behind Nunes’ complaint is that he’s upset that his political opponents filed Freedom of Information Act requests to try to get emails from Nunes’ wife, Elizabeth, who is an elementary school teacher. And, I completely understand why such filings would be upsetting and annoying. Indeed, there’s been a lot of debate about how some have been using FOIA as something of a weapon against academics who work for public schools (usually universities). Technically, as government employees, their emails are subject to FOIA requests, but often times those requests are designed to be a burden, or to go fishing for dirt.
So I completely understand why Nunes is upset about the FOIA requests for his wife’s emails. At the very least, that is a pretty dirty political campaign tactic. But if he’s angry about it, as a Congressman, shouldn’t he be focused on maybe changing the FOIA law that makes that practice legal. I, personally, wouldn’t directly advocate for such a change — I tend to lean on the side of more transparency via FOIA, rather than less — but his real anger here seems to stem from the law being used properly. And he’s in Congress. So if he doesn’t like how FOIA laws operate, that’s on him to propose a bill, convince his colleagues, and get it signed into law. Not go to court against those who used the law within its bounds in a way that he, personally, finds annoying.
Either way, it sounds as though Nunes is planning more of these lawsuits, which seems pretty damn hypocritical and thin-skinned for a politician who claims to be against frivolous lawsuits and in favor of free speech.