Today is a day ending with the letter “y” so that means Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has been mocked. This time, however, the ridicule comes by way of a court filing in Virginia.
Attorney Scott Surovell filed a motion to quash a Nunes-issued subpoena on behalf of his client, Democratic Party consultant and strategist Adam Parkhomenko, who is also a centrist commentator. Law&Crime obtained a copy of that filing via Surovell.
The legal controversy centers around two anonymous and satirical Twitter accounts: “Devin Nunes’ Cow” and “Devin Nunes’ Mom.”
Both accounts regularly post unflattering news and opinions about the California Republican, both accounts speak in the fictional voices of their online personas, and both accounts have been targeted by Nunes and his attorneys in a massive lawsuit. Parkhomenko was recently subpoenaed because he allegedly communicated with the accounts via Twitter’s direct messaging feature.
Parkhomenko has so far refused to comply with Nunes’s subpoena and the motion filed Wednesday aims to invalidate the demand.
The filing describes each of the anonymous Twitter accounts in turn.
Here’s a tidy run-down of the cow-themed account:
Defendant “Devin Nunes’ Cow” is an anonymous Twitter user which apparently purports to be a cow owned by Mr. Nunes, which posted satirical and hyperbolic insults regarding Mr. Nunes, many of which are filled with cow puns – e.g.,”He’s udder-ly worthless,” a “treasonous cow poke,””Devin’s boots are full of manure,” and “Devin is whey over his head in crime” and “its pasture time to move him to prison.”
And here’s how the filing describes Nunes’s satirical mother:
The other anonymous Twitter user,Defendant “Devin Nunes’ Mom,” is another ostensible parody account which purports to be Plaintiffs mother and posts hyperbolic insults about Mr. Nunes, which are frequently accompanied by mothering, nagging, and child-raising jokes, treating Plaintiff as a misbehaving child – e.g., “Are you trying to obstruct a federal investigation again? You come home right this instant or no more Minecraft!”and claiming Plaintiff was voted “Most Likely to Commit Treason” in high school.
“Both of these anonymous Twitter accounts are blatant parody accounts,” Surovell’s motion continues. “No reasonable person would believe that Devin Nunes’ cow actually has a Twitter account, or that the hyperbole, satire and cow-related jokes it posts are serious facts. It is self-evident that cows are domesticated livestock animals and do not have the intelligence, language, or opposable digits needed to operate a Twitter account. Moreover, by purporting to be from a cow, with the excessive use of cow puns and cow imagery, it is plainly evident that it is not a serious news outlet.”
“They are parody accounts,” the filing sums up. “As such, the statements at issue in this case lack the defamatory sting necessary to state a cause of action.”
Parkhomenko is not named in the lawsuit filed by Nunes–which alleges defamation and a conspiracy to defame the former dairy farmer. Rather, Nunes is attempting to subpoena the former DNC official in order to obtain documents which might reveal the identities of the person or people behind the two satire accounts.
“From our perspective, this is a SLAPP suit brought to silence and intimidate people,” Surovell told Law&Crime. “The Twitter accounts are clear parody accounts. Nobody thought his mother was tweeting about him or that his cow had an opinion on his ethics.”
Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) are anti-speech lawsuits generally cloaked under other legal pretenses but which effectively chill, censor and intimidate free speech by forcing defendants to shell out cash for the legal fees necessary to defend against them. Several states have anti-SLAPP legislation which aims to deter such politically-oriented abuses of the legal system.
Surovell also mused that Nunes likely “picked Virginia because our SLAPP legislation isn’t as strong as in other states–including his home state of California.”
Parkhomenko’s attorney also said that Nunes’s lawsuit probably isn’t even firm on procedural grounds and the motion to quash alleges that Nunes and his attorneys haven’t actually complied with two separate aspects of Virginia law.
“The Supreme Court of Virginia has created a process for filing attorney-issued subpoenas,” the filing notes. “The subpoena is invalid because it was not filed with the Henrico County Circuit Court Clerk.”
The filing also claims that Nunes has failed to observe § 8.01-407.1 of the Code of Virginia, which requires a plaintiff to file and serve certain “supporting material” with any subpoena that seeks to identify the anonymous author(s) of communications posted on the internet.
“Under Virginia law, if you want to subpoena anonymous Twitter accounts you have to jump through a lot of hoops and the [Nunes] lawsuit hasn’t done that,” Surovell said.
Read the full filing below:
[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]