The Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday denied Devin Nunes a chance to appeal a lower court ruling in a long-running defamation feud with Republican strategist Liz Mair.
“Upon review of the record in this case and consideration of the argument submitted in support of and in opposition to the granting of an appeal, the Court is of the opinion there is no reversible error in the judgment complained of,” Clerk Muriel-Theresa Pitney wrote. “Accordingly, the Court refuses the petition for appeal.”
The upshot of the ruling is that Nunes’s efforts to sue Mair, years in the making, have ended with a whimper.
“I am pleased to announce today that the Virginia Supreme Court has refused former Rep. Nunes’ petition for appeal in his $150 million lawsuit against me (one of two in which he sought a total of $400 million in damages),” Mair wrote in a statement provided to Law&Crime. “I thank the Court for upholding the First Amendment and my– and all Americans’– rights of free speech.”
The Republican former San Joauqin Valley congressional Representative has filed, and lost out in numerous lawsuits aimed at businesses, media outlets, and anonymous Twitter accounts he claimed defamed him.
Nunes did get one favorable court decision recently.
Thursday’s denial comes in one of two separate lawsuits filed against Mair (and others) in Virginia.
In the present case, Nunes sued Mair and McClatchy, a since-bankrupt media conglomerate, over a Fresno Bee story titled: “A yacht, cocaine, prostitutes: Winery partly owned by Nunes sued after fundraising event.” The story, written by Mackenzie Mays, focused on a server’s lawsuit against a winery. The story relayed the server’s discomfort during the alleged sex-and-drug-fueled cruise and noted that Nunes owned an interest in the business. Nunes removed McClatchy from the lawsuit after the company’s bankruptcy proceedings began.
The specific claim against Mair stems from her response to a Nunes tweet in June 2018 where she wrote: “To be fair, I think the @fresnobee writing up your investment in a winery that allegedly used underage hookers to solicit investment –an allegation you’ve known about for years, during which you’ve stayed invested in it, I might add — did surprise you.”
In September 2021, Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Claude V. Worrell Jr. dismissed the lawsuit against Mair. His opinion said Nunes failed to describe the words allegedly used to defame him, that Mair’s statements were not defamatory and “the facts alleged fail to support a reasonable inference that Mair made any of the alleged statements with the requisite intent of actual malice.”
Thursday’s terse order from the Old Dominion’s highest state court leaves that lower court ruling undisturbed.
“I hope that this judgment will dissuade other government and political figures from attempting to use litigation as a cudgel to stifle free speech,” Mair continued. “This lawsuit did not succeed in silencing me, and nor should lawsuits like it be allowed to silence other Americans exercising their God-given rights to free speech especially where they do so in an effort to hold their government accountable.”
In the second, and perhaps more famous lawsuit against Mair, Nunes sued the strategist, her LLC and two anonymous Twitter accounts that parodied a cow he might have owned and his mother.
“While I admit to being less interesting than a fake, anonymous barnyard animal on Twitter, this case should nonetheless be firmly recorded in the history books as an instance of where our democratic republic safeguarded essential civil liberties and stood strong for freedom,” Mair’s statement concluded. “I hope that it will always do so, for the benefit of all Americans.”
[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]