'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.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, anti-slapp, california, devin nunes, free speech, nunes campaign, politics, slapp, snowflake, tortious interference


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Aug 2019 @ 8:25am

    Smite the opposition

    Seems like Nunes is quaking in his boots. Afraid to let those who can do something about it to know where that spike in money came from. Afraid of competition speaking out. Afraid of what FOIA requests might produce.

    And his response? A good defense is an offensive offense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 5 Aug 2019 @ 9:44am

    “Free speech is only free when it isn’t speech I dislike!” — Nunes, probably

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 9:53am

    All I have to say to this is: Moo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 5 Aug 2019 @ 10:14am

    Is that the guy who's also infamous for that falsehood-filled "memo" with specious attacks on Mueller's investigation?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SpaceLifeForm, 5 Aug 2019 @ 10:33am

    Discovery, pro bono?

    " I'd be amazed if the defendants don't move to strike under California's anti-SLAPP law"

    This actually could be a very interesting case if that did not happen.

    Your move, Nunes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    John Snape (profile), 5 Aug 2019 @ 10:36am

    Is there a limit?

    How much can you libel someone before they have actionable cause?

    How many falsehoods can I say about Mike Masnick before he files suit for slander or libel?

    How many fake quotes can I attribute to Stephen T. Stone before I'm held accountable?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 5 Aug 2019 @ 10:39am

      The real question is: Why are you admitting to defamation before you do it?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2019 @ 2:07am

        Re:

        Same reason why John Smith's biggest counterarguments to Section 230 is to bring up countless rhetoric examples of waiters calling women hookers, or suggest that incel neckbeards investigate Masnick's wife and kids, then backpedal with a "not that I think such a request against a guy I hate with all my guts would be legal or anything, so I'm not breaking the law, honest! But fuck Section 230, while I'm at it!"

        If it wasn't for his actually respectable post history I'd've pegged Snape for a Jhon boi alt.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Aug 2019 @ 10:40am

      Re: Is there a limit?

      Once. But only if it is libel/slander, read the legal definitions, not the ones you make up in your head.

      Whether anyone would care what you have to say is another matter.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Gary (profile), 5 Aug 2019 @ 12:56pm

        Re: Re: Is there a limit?

        One thing that comes up again and again in these defamation articles is that they rarely contain any actual defamation. Some of the posters (Like that self-help scammer and serial goat rapist) still are unclear on how it all works.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 6 Aug 2019 @ 5:49am

          Re: Re: Re: Is there a limit?

          "that self-help scammer and serial goat rapist"

          Now, now, one of those things is still unproven. We're just assuming he's a scammer.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 12:48pm

      Re: Is there a limit?

      You can sue anyone for any reason. You will lose if you fail to make a claim in the proper court. There now I’ve answered you idiotic questions. Now answer one of mine. How fucking stupid are you bro?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 12:58pm

      Re:

      How much can you libel someone before they have actionable cause?

      As someone else said, exactly once. You only need to break the law once to be held responsible.

      How many falsehoods can I say about Mike Masnick before he files suit for slander or libel?

      He CAN after one, whether he will or not is entirely up to him.

      How many fake quotes can I attribute to Stephen T. Stone before I'm held accountable?

      One. We will call you on your BS every. single. time.

      Also, I question the sanity of someone who admits they are going to commit a crime before actually committing. Might want to get your head checked.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Roddy (profile), 5 Aug 2019 @ 5:48pm

      Re: Is there a limit?

      How much can you libel someone before they have actionable cause?

      As Stephen T. Stone once said, "The answer to your question is infinity billion." At least, that's what Mike Masnick told me.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 5 Aug 2019 @ 8:52pm

      Re: Is there a limit?

      1. This isn't even a defamation suit.

      2. None of the statements made against him have been defamation.

      3. If you actually are defamed, then it's fine to file a defamation lawsuit.

      4. The problem is that's not what's happening here.

      5. Reading comprehension seems to be an issue with you, especially when you view it as someone on "your team." Get over your tribalism and maybe learn what's actually happening.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 7 Aug 2019 @ 7:26am

      Re: Is there a limit?

      How much can you spew those braindead comments of yours before we all call you out as a moron?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 10:50am

    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.

    I can understand that as well, especially since he's running for office, not his wife. But if it's being used as a political tactic, it makes me wonder: just what exactly are his opponents hoping to find in his wife's emails that would make such a tactic useful?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      k, 19 Aug 2019 @ 5:19pm

      Re: Nunes wife's emails

      So here's a pretty conundrum. Nune's FEC filings claim a net worth of $158,000, but according to open source searches, Mz. Lizzy lives in a $447,000 house in Tulare. Hummm. Which of these things don't match?)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 5 Aug 2019 @ 1:54pm

    A ❄ so fragile,

    it broke up as it descended through the air, unable to survive even the lightest human contact.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bobob, 5 Aug 2019 @ 2:05pm

    I don't know about Devin Nunes being a fake farmer, but he is certainly a fake representative.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 3:40pm

    He's not related to that thin skinned idiot in Turkey is he?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    stine, 5 Aug 2019 @ 4:59pm

    why the campaign filed the suit

    So that losing doesn't come out of his pockets, but comes out of the pockets of his donors, which seems like a misuse of campaign funds.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 5:33pm

    Ianal, but couldnt the people being sued use this lawsuit and discovery to suss out the truth behind all of their donors? I mean if the campaign is arguing that all moneys r clean then all monies are discoverable arent they?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 5:58pm

    Here, Poochie!

    All this shit and Nunes is doing a far better job than blue of shitting everywhere he walks.

    It's not even 600 spam comments in your lovechild Nunes memo thread, blue. I'm not impressed. Punny pseudonym inspiration not working today?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 6 Aug 2019 @ 9:04am

    Nunes?

    Isn't he the one with all the hookers and blow?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 7 Aug 2019 @ 9:31am

    Leave it to right-wing idiots like Nunes and Jordan Peterson to turn "free speech defender" into doublespeak.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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