A federal judge has denied attempts from rally lawsuit defendant and fake news purveyor Jim Hoft to subpoena a slew of state and local officials.
Hoft, of The Gateway Pundit, is among various defendants in the Gilmore v. InfoWars lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of Brennan Gilmore, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer who was the subject of various false articles in the wake of the 2017 Unite the Right rally.
After Gilmore witnessed and filmed the Aug. 12, 2017, car attack that killed counter-protester Heather Heyer, the defendants started spreading conspiracies about Gilmore, which led to death threats against him and his family, according to the suit.
In addition to Hoft, Alex Jones and InfoWars, the complaint names Free Speech Systems LLC, Lee Stranahan, Lee Ann McAdoo, Scott Creighton, Derrick Wilburn, Michele Hickford of Words-N-Ideas LLC and former U.S. Rep. Allen B. West, R-Fla., as defendants. West was later dismissed from the suit.
Hoft is accused of publishing an article on his blog accusing Gilmore of being a “deep state shill with links to George Soros” and that the “State Department was involved in Charlottesville rioting and is trying to cover it up.” Neither Hoft nor any of the other defendants have been able to substantiate these claims.
In a recent memorandum opinion and order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel C. Hoppe granted motions from about 10 nonparties to quash attempts from Hoft to subpoena them for a wide-range of documents not directly related to the lawsuit.
“The sheer breadth of the subpoenas shows that Hoft has embarked on a fishing expedition into the existence of some amorphous ‘deep state,’” Hoppe wrote. “Such broad discovery requests abuse the discovery process, particularly when directed to nonparties.”
Among the nonparties Hoft sought information from are: Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania; the city of Charlottesville; former city Chief of Police Al Thomas; Charlottesville police Detective Declan Hickey; former City Manager Maurice Jones; the Virginia State Police; and the Office of the Governor of Virginia.
Several of these nonparties filed motions in May to quash Hoft’s subpoenas, arguing that they were overbroad, that compliance would be unduly burdensome and that much of the information Hoft sought is privileged.
Hoft disagreed, arguing that if he could prove that his statements were accurate — that Gilmore was really a “deep state” operative working with the State Department to orchestrate the rioting and violence in Charlottesville on Aug. 12 and to cover it up — then he would win.
In his order, Hoppe wrote that because nonparties are “‘strangers’ to the litigation” who have “no dog in [the] fight,” the standard of review for a nonparty subpoena is higher than that used to assess discovery requests to litigants.
The court must consider whether the requesting party “need[s]” the information sought and that the information “likely (not just theoretically) … offer[s] some value over and above what the requesting party already has.”
Hoft’s requests did not meet these criteria, wrote Hoppe, who said Hoft’s requests instead amounted to an “enormously extensive” list of documents and information not tailored to the “fairly narrow” allegations against him.
“Hoft’s reasoning is simple: He has set out to prove that he was right all along, that the ‘Deep State’ orchestrated the August 11–12, 2017 rioting and violence in Charlottesville, and that his allegedly defamatory statements about [Gilmore] were, therefore, true,” Hoppe wrote. “This is clearly a fishing expedition for which Hoft has shown no good faith basis.”
Hoppe not only granted the nonparties’ motions to quash, but also declined to exercise the court’s ability to more narrowly tailor the subpoenas to a reasonable scope.
Though the case will continue against Hoft, two other defendants reached settlements with Gilmore last month.
Defendants Hickford and Wilburn reached settlements on June 25, with the former admitting liability for the claims asserted by Gilmore in the lawsuit and the latter not contesting Gilmore’s allegation of defamation.
As a condition of settlement, Hickford and Words-N-Ideas LLC agreed to make a joint charitable donation of $2,500 to the Legal Aid Justice Center. Wilburn similarly agreed to make a donation of $2,000 to the center.
A multi-week trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 18 in Charlottesville’s federal courthouse.