A judge in a long-running Unite the Right lawsuit has recently attempted to settle several side avenues to the main case, in one instance pointing out that a campaign to discredit his law clerks was irrelevant.
The Sines v. Kessler case has slowly worked its way through the Charlottesville U.S. District Court since it was filed in October 2017, less than two months after the deadly rally. The lawsuit targets key organizers and participants of the white supremacist rally and was filed on behalf of a number of Charlottesville-area residents by Integrity First For America.
Recently, U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon denied a motion from defendants Jason Kessler, Matt Parrott and Nathan Damigo that called on the judge to recuse two of his law clerks for alleged personal connections to a plaintiff, Elizabeth Sines.
In Moon’s denial, he wrote that the defendants were “pushing on an open door,” and not asking for any relief that is different from the status quo because the named clerks had never been involved in the case.
“They promptly informed me of the potential conflict and have heeded my instructions not to work on this case,” Moon wrote. “Rather, my career clerk has assisted me on this matter whenever I have found the assistance of a law clerk useful. Such measures are routine in the event of a law clerk conflict.”
Moon’s order came the same week U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel C. Hoppe, who also has presided over the case, ruled that John DiNucci, an attorney representing white supremacist and University of Virginia graduate Richard Spencer, could withdraw from the case.
During a telephonic hearing earlier in the month, DiNucci argued he should be allowed to withdraw as Spencer’s attorney because he had not been paid in months. Spencer claimed his financial woes were due to deplatforming efforts and asked for a week to develop a payment plan, which was granted.
According to Hoppe’s order, on June 18 DiNucci informed the court that he stood by his motion to withdraw, which the court subsequently granted.
Another issue plaguing the case was seemingly concluded during a Thursday telephonic hearing.
Since January, defendant James Alex Fields Jr.’s state trial attorneys — Denise Lunsford and John Hill — have repeatedly filed motions arguing they cannot produce documents responsive to the case. The attorneys have argued that the documents are non-privileged and are unable to be produced because of a confidentiality agreement they signed with Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania.
Hoppe denied their motion to quash earlier this month, which prompted a motion to reconsider.
Less than a half-hour prior to Thursday’s hearing, Lunsford filed supplemental evidence of a 2017 Charlottesville General District Court order that prevented the dispersal of case materials in an effort to protect the privacy of Fields’ victims.
Lunsford argued that this order, which she had been unable to locate prior to the hearing, prevented her and Hill from providing much of the documents requested by the plaintiffs. She also argued that the discovery requests put an undue burden on her and Hill, who are not parties in the lawsuit and only represent Fields on the state criminal level.
Describing this evidence as “beyond the 11th hour,” Joshua Siegel, an attorney representing the plaintiff’s, countered that the court order did not meet the standard for a motion to be quash and should have been brought up months prior.
After a nearly two hour hearing, Hoppe said he would respect the Charlottesville General District Court’s order and the parties would need to request a change to the order, which could then allow Lunsford and Hill to share responsive documents.
According to Siegel, the plaintiffs expect to wrap up depositions in the next three weeks and the case is still on track for a three-week trial in October.