'Raises legitimate concern': Federal judge demands answers about defamation lawsuit filed by Devin Nunes’ family

'Raises legitimate concern': Federal judge demands answers about defamation lawsuit filed by Devin Nunes’ family

Although right-wing talk radio hosts have a long history of railing against frivolous lawsuits, that hasn't stopped those they support — from former President Donald Trump to Rep. Devin Nunes of California — from filing them. Nunes' family has sued journalist Ryan Lizza and Hearst Publications because of an article published by Esquire in 2018. And a federal judge, Mark Roberts, is demanding to know exactly how Nunes is paying for that lawsuit.

Lizza's article alleged that Nunes' family used illegal immigrants on its family farm, Nustar Farms — and over the summer, Nunes' brother, Anthony Nunes, said that he had "no idea" who was paying for the lawsuit. That statement worries Judge Roberts, who wants some answers.

Roberts wrote, "Anthony Nunes III's lack of knowledge about who is paying the attorneys prosecuting this action raises legitimate concern about not only who may be in charge of the lawsuit, but also, whether Plaintiffs are the still the real parties in interest."

Lawyers for Lizza and Hearst Publications want answers as well.

On October 27, the Sacramento Bee's Gillian Brassil reported, "In their motion, they wrote that the lawsuit might be motivated by someone other than the family. They said this motivation was relevant to the case because it might be fueled by wealthy private donors connected to the congressman as a means to 'chill' media coverage. Hearst attorneys wrote that information also could shed light on whether the Nunes family should be considered public figures, which would make it harder for them to win a defamation lawsuit."

In its lawsuit against Lizza and Hearst, Nunes' family is seeking $20 million in damages. Lizza's article, published on September 30, 2018, is still online.

In a separate case, Rep. Nunes — a far-right Trump ally known for promoting conspiracy theories — has faced a great deal of mockery for suing Twitter because of a Twitter parody account, Devin Nunes' Cow, which made fun of the congressman from the perspective of a fictional cow. The congressman was seeking $250 million in damages, but in June 2020, Judge John Marshall of the Henrico County Circuit Court in Virginia ruled that Twitter enjoyed immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

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