Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and his attorney can’t say they weren’t warned. A federal judge in Maryland this week followed through on his previous notice that he might sanction Nunes lawyer Steve Biss for filing “frivolous” defamation lawsuits on behalf of the California lawmaker and ordered Biss to reimburse CNN more than $21,000 in legal fees.
U.S. District Judge Richard Bennet ruled that Biss “unreasonably and vexatiously” attempted to continue litigating a lawsuit against the news network after the case had already been dismissed with prejudice in March for failing to state a claim. Despite that ruling, Biss filed an amended complaint that the court went on to describe as “nothing more than a repetition of the original complaint with no new material factual allegations.”
Judge Bennet concluded that CNN’s request for $21,437 in attorney’s fees was reasonable under the circumstances.
The original defamation complaint, which was filed on behalf of Nunes’s senior aide Derek Harvey against CNN, former Rudy Giuliani business associate Lev Parnas, and Parnas’s attorney Joseph Bondy, grew out of a November 2020 CNN report that said Parnas was going to provide Congress with testimony in connection with Donald Trump’s first impeachment proceeding. CNN reported that Parnas would testify, in effect, that Nunes met with former Ukrainian prosecutor Victor Shokin “to discuss digging up dirt of Joe Biden.”
In the initial complaint, Harvey alleged that the defendants falsely accused him of participating in an effort to aid and abet the commission of criminal, unethical, and dishonest conduct. He sought punitive damages and an order prohibiting the defendants from continuing to repeat false claims on the basis that they constituted defamation and false light invasion of privacy. The judge found that Nunes failed to provide any evidence that the CNN report was inaccurate or was created with the deliberate intent of harming the congressman’s reputation.
Nunes doesn’t have a great track record suing for defamation. Last year his lawsuit against Twitter for its hosting of the parody account DevinNunesCow, which he claimed was part of a “vicious defamation campaign” against him, was dismissed.
This isn’t the first time Nunes’s lawyer has been sanctioned. In 2008 he was suspended from practicing law for one year by the Virginia State Bar for “a deliberately wrongful act that reflects adversely on his fitness to practice law.”