A federal judge has again denied attempts from rally lawsuit defendant and fake news purveyor Jim Hoft to subpoena a slew of nonparties, this time several TV news stations and reporters.
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 says he 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, vehicular murder of 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 an effort to defend himself, Hoft has sent broad subpoenas to a slew of nonparties, including various state and local leaders. Earlier this month, 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.
However, more motions to quash from different nonparties remained, including several news outlets and journalists: Gray Media Group, Graham Media Group, WSLS-TV, WRC-TV and journalists Ashley Curtis and Julie Carey.
During a telephonic hearing Tuesday, Hoppe heard arguments on behalf of the media nonparties’ motion to quash, ultimately deciding to grant their motion, citing Hoft’s inadequate pleadings.
Hoft’s subpoenas appeared to be primarily concerned with footage shot from a Virginia State Police helicopter of the rally and car attack. The footage, which was used as evidence in the July 2019 federal sentencing of James Alex Fields Jr., was, and still is, publicly available.
The footage was recorded on Aug. 12, 2017, by VSP officers Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, both of whom died later that day in a helicopter crash.
Describing the premise of Hoft’s subpoenas as “delusional,” attorney Leita Walker pushed back against Hoft’s attempts during Tuesday’s hearing.
“Although the subpoena draft is very broad, Mr. Hoft and his counsel have represented that what they’re really after is footage taken from a helicopter, that later tragically crashed, of the murder of Heather Heyer,” she said. “They’re under the impression that that footage was leaked to the media.”
Walker said it was unclear whom Hoft and his attorney John Burns were alleging “leaked” the footage, which Walker again clarified was publicly available and able to be purchased from the federal court. Additionally, Walker argued that “reporters’ privilege” prevented Hoft from being able to subpoena the nonparties.
“There’s no reason to think anyone leaked it to the press when it was publicly available,” Walker said. “Again, that’s really the entire premise for the subpoenas themselves as narrowed by Mr. Burns.”
In response, Burns made the argument that the media nonparties could have just told Hoft that the footage was publicly available and further argued that he didn’t think the greater public was aware the footage was accessible to the public.
“That’s frustrating in and of itself, but it also makes me really frustrated because I feel like somebody is hiding the ball here, that there’s a larger video,” Burns said. “Then there’s also the question of how the reporters got the footage.”
Hoppe then explained to Burns that various public court documents are regularly obtained from the court by reporters, lawyers and private citizens. These public documents are available to anyone and do not need to be leaked because they are public documents, he said.
In response, Burns argued that if a reporter was “tipped off” about the footage, then that could show collusion between the media and the government.
“You know that James Fields’ sentencing was public?” Hoppe responded. “The state case and the federal case where this exhibit was introduced to the public. It was open proceedings, so any member of the public and media could attend if they chose.”
Walker again argued that the media nonparties never responded with how they got the footage because they are under no obligation to do so.
“That’s privileged information and the privilege is very clear that it applies to all unpublished news gathering information,” Walker said. “We’re not going to say how we got it, but the fact remains that it’s undisputed that this video was publicly available through a federal courthouse long before these news reports were published.”
Burns argued that he still believed the footage was not obtained by the media through public means because Walker said she contacted the federal court to confirm that the footage was publicly available.
This argument failed to sway Hoppe.
“I think all of our attorneys should do their due diligence and not just rely on what their clients tell them,” Hoppe said.
Other nonparties still have unheard motions to quash Hoft’s subpoenas but no hearings are currently set for those motions.
A multi-week trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 18 in Charlottesville’s federal courthouse.