- Rep. Devin Nunes' family members are suing the publisher of Esquire and journalist Ryan Lizza over an article about their farm.
- In depositions, they said they don't pay their lawyers and have little involvement with the lawsuit.
- The deposition excerpts, which were sealed, were cited this week in a poorly redacted court filing.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
A brother of Republican US Rep. Devin Nunes said he has "no idea" who is funding a lawsuit he filed against political journalist Ryan Lizza, according to a deposition excerpt included in a poorly redacted court filing.
The comment from Anthony Nunes III, the congressman's brother, was included in a legal brief filed in federal court Monday by lawyers representing Lizza and Hearst Magazines. Hearst published an Esquire magazine article by Lizza in 2018 suggesting the Nunes family dairy farm in Iowa employed undocumented immigrants, even as the congressman advocated for restrictive immigration policies.
Insider was able to read redacted testimony from the filing by simply copying and pasting the redactions.
"When asked "[W]ho is funding the lawyers for this lawsuit?", Anthony Nunes III answered "I have no idea," according to a redacted segment.
In other failed redactions, lawyers for Hearst and Lizza wrote that members of the Nunes family paid just $500 to their attorneys for the lawsuit.
"Plaintiffs' apparent lack of investment in prosecuting their own lawsuit was buttressed by their deposition testimony admitting they have not incurred out-of-pocket payments to counsel, with the exception paying $500 to former local counsel Joe Feller," the partially redacted section says.
The lawsuit was filed in January 2020 by the family farm, called NuStar Farms LLC, as well as two members of the Nunes family who manage the farm: Anthony Nunes Jr., the congressman's father, and Anthony Nunes III. Rep. Nunes himself is not a party to the case.
The plaintiffs accused Lizza and Hearst of defamation, claiming the Esquire article was a "hit piece" designed to undermine the California congressman's political prospects and demanding $25 million in damages.
Lawyers for Hearst and Lizza, who now writes for Politico, asked US District Judge CJ Williams to dismiss the case, arguing the defamation lawsuit was too vague and that the Esquire article was accurate. But Williams, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, allowed parts of an amended version of the lawsuit to proceed in a September 2020 order.
Rep. Nunes and members of his family sat for depositions in the lawsuit in July and August 2021, court filings reviewed by Insider show. Insider was unable to review excerpts from those depositions, which were sealed on the case docket and also filed to court Monday.
Attorneys for Nunes' family, Lizza, and Hearst didn't immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment, nor did a representative for Rep. Nunes.
It's not clear who's paying for the lawsuit
Rep. Nunes has filed multiple lawsuits against media organizations, few of which have been successful.
His lawsuits against The Washington Post, CNN, and The Fresno Bee have been dismissed or suffered setbacks. In 2020, a judge dismissed a lawsuit he filed against Twitter seeking to reveal the identity behind an account that pretended to be a cow that made fun of him.
Monday's filing sought to compel the Nunes family members' attorneys to turn over information about who was funding the lawsuit. Rep. Nunes himself sat for a deposition in the case on August 10. In it, he "regaled about the libel strategy" he and attorney Steven Biss employ in a "nationwide assault on journalists and media organizations," the lawyers say.
"Now my policy is, and I have a new policy, that if you defame or slander me, I take you to court," Nunes said in the deposition, according to an improperly redacted section of the filing.
Hearst and Lizza have suggested that Rep. Nunes is bankrolling the case because he is upset that his own lawsuit over the Esquire article was dismissed. In redacted segments of the brief, the lawyers for Hearst and Lizza say Nunes family members testified that they had little involvement with the lawsuit, and that they haven't paid Biss, who is representing them in the case.
"Plaintiffs admit making no payments to Biss for his services in this lawsuit, and presumably Biss does not work for free," Hearst and Lizza's lawyers write. "This prompts the question of whether Plaintiffs are the real party in interest, particularly if they do not stand to materially benefit from its outcome."
Rep. Nunes' brother even testified he wasn't interested in winning money from the case, the lawyers argue, citing the deposition.
"For instance, Anthony Nunes III testified at his deposition that he is not interested in winning any money in this lawsuit-yet the Complaint seeks, in bold face type, $25 million dollars," they write.