Here’s what I saw during the Gilmore v. Jones, et al. hearing on motions to dismiss at the U.S. District Court in Charlottesville, Virginia.
First of all, I saw Judge Moon from up close. At one point in his presentation, Aaron Walker (representing Lee Stranahan, Jim Hoft, Scott Creighton, Michele Hickford, and Words-N-Ideas) was using a poster to clarify some of the points he was making. Because there wasn’t an easel in the courtroom, he asked me to hold it, and the judge asked me to bring right up to the bench. Judge Moon seemed to be familiar with the material in the written briefings from the Plaintiff and the three groups of defendants, and he engaged counsel from both sides with questions to clarify factual details. He did not ask many questions regarding the legal theories presented.
Andrew Grossman (representing Alex Jones. Lee Ann McAdoo, InfoWars, and Free Speech Systems) spoke first. He first attacked Gilmore’s claim that the court had jurisdiction over the defendants he represented. None are from Virginia. Because the only claims against them are based in state law, the requirements of the Virginia long arm statute must be met, and he noted that the Plaintiff has offered no evidence to support that assertion. Then he argued that, even if the court had jurisdiction over his clients, the things they were accused of saying or writing were expressions of opinion of the sort protected by the First Amendment and, thus, not actionable.
Aaron Walker went next. He made the same jurisdictional argument for his out-of-state clients. Then, he argued that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction with respect to the case against Lee Stranahan. Stranahan and Gilmore are both residents of Virginia, and without a federal issue, a federal court doesn’t have jurisdictions over residents of the same state concerning a state law matter. The poster I held for the judge detailed the evidence for Stranahan’s residency in Virginia (extensive) versus Gilmore’s claim that Stranahan is resident of Texas (essentially non-existent). Initially, Gilmore had claimed that Stranahan had a Texas driver’s license, but his lawyers have backed off that claim when they were informed that Stranahan is legally blind. They now claim that Lee’s Texas voter registration was renewed in late 2017, but Stranahan has submitted two declarations relating to his Virginia residency, stating in one that he did not renew his registration and does not know how or even if it might have been renewed. Walker also argued that the remarks made by his clients concerning Gilmore were protected by the First Amendment and not actionable.
Brandon Bolling spoke for Allen West. He was brief and to the point. At the time the allegedly defamatory comments were published, the websites and social media accounts using West’s name were not under his control, and the Plaintiff has done nothing to show that West was in control of those sites. West had nothing to do with the remarks. If there is a case for defamation, it can’t be against someone who wasn’t involved. West should be dismissed from the case.
Two lawyers spoke on behalf of the Plaintiff. Andrew Mendrala of the Georgetown Law Civil Rights Clinic went first. He spent a good portion of his time on the issue of jurisdiction, and he made the statement that Stranahan had only submitted one declaration with respect his residency and that Stranahan had not dealt with the Plaintiff’s assertion that he was registered to vote in Texas. That was incorrect. During a recess, the error was pointed out to him, and he refused to correct the record.
Brianne Gorod of the Constitutional Accountability Center spoke for Gilmore as well. She asserted that the court did not need to consider the requirements of the Virginia long arm statute but should make a determination of personal jurisdiction based only on the limitations of due process imposed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
The three lawyers for the Defendants then offered their rebuttals. Here are the highlights: Grossman pointed out that the case law in the Fourth Circuit (Virginia is in the Fourth Circuit) required the court to apply the state’s long arm statute. Walker pointed out the misrepresentation by the Plaintiff with respect to the Stranahan declarations and cited their locations in the record. Bolling simply repeated the fact that Allen West didn’t say or publish what Gilmore claimed and that there was no evidence to support Gilmore’s claim.
The judge took the case under advisement, and we’re waiting for a ruling.