A federal judge Thursday ordered employees at an Iowa dairy owned by Rep. Devin Nunes’ father and brother to produce whatever documents they have about their immigration status for a long-running defamation lawsuit the family filed against Esquire magazine.
The order followed a complaint from Hearst Magazines in which the company contended Nunes’ family attorney, Steven S. Biss, was making it difficult to find out more about the status of the employees.
Mark Roberts, a U.S. magistrate judge for the northern district of Iowa, said that in the future, Biss or any attorney representing dairy employees “will inform the employees of their obligation to search for the requested documents and bring the documents to the deposition, if they still possess them.”
They also will have to advise the employees that the court has ordered this action, “and employees may be asked about their efforts to comply at the deposition.”
The case centers on a 2018 article published by Esquire Magazine that detailed the family dairy’s move from the San Joaquin Valley to Iowa and said the farm likely employs undocumented immigrants, which the headline described as a “politically explosive secret.” Rep. Nunes, R-Tulare, is not an owner of the dairy.
Nunes and his family members in 2019 filed separate lawsuits against Esquire, its parent company and Ryan Lizza, the journalist who wrote the piece. Nunes and his family members share the same attorney, Biss, and Nunes and his family members claim the article defamed them.
A federal judge dismissed Nunes’ lawsuit over the story in August. Nunes has appealed the ruling, putting it before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
It’s one of nine lawsuits Nunes and his campaign have filed against media organizations, online critics and the social media giant Twitter. Biss has represented Nunes in all of the cases, as well as in other lawsuits against news organizations filed by people who have worked for Nunes.
The new ruling in the family case noted that the magazine’s attorney complained that Biss “asserted argumentative objections that were disruptive and intended to intimidate or coach the witness.”
Biss said his objections were proper and “intended to call out the defendants’ overt harassment of the employee.”
Roberts called Biss’ explanation on this issue “puzzling and troubling.”
Roberts described a deposition of one employee in which Biss interrupted questions from Hearst attorneys to a dairy worker about government documents the employee had signed.
Biss, according to the judge, objected to the questions, calling them “harassment.”
Roberts wrote, “Here, where the identity and immigration status of the employees is a central issue, it is not harassing or irrelevant to ask questions about such documents. In the context of this case, it is not conducive to obtaining truthful answers from an employee … to have his employer’s lawyer making lengthy, animated objections to those questions.”
Source: The Fresno Bee