Attorneys for Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva have responded in new court papers to a request by a coronavirus testing company to conduct preliminary discovery ahead of the filing of a potential defamation suit against the sheriff, calling the effort "pointless'' and done to harass the sheriff.
Fulgent Genetics Inc. and its subsidiary, Fulgent Therapeutics LLC, allege that Villanueva, in a Nov. 29 letter to the Board of Supervisors and published on the sheriff's department website, falsely stated that the FBI warned him against using Fulgent's COVID-19 testing services because of "concerning information'' that the company would provide to China the DNA data of county employees.
The letter referred to an FBI briefing Villanueva said took place the day after Thanksgiving. Fulgent filed a petition Jan. 21 to conduct the preliminary discovery. The Fulgent petition seeks a court order directing Villanueva to produce any personal and sheriff's department-issued cell phone text messages and emails related to or discussing Fulgent, the publication of the letter and any involvement he had with the coordination and scheduling of the FBI briefing.
The company also wants Villanueva to sit for a four-hour deposition.
"The petition is superfluous, pointless and obviously done to harass Sheriff Villanueva,'' the sheriff's attorneys state in court papers brought Thursday.
"Evidently, petitioners want to waste valuable judicial resources and the parties' time by filing this petition. The sham petition has unfortunately forced Sheriff Villanueva to take time away from his crucial official duties of protecting the county.''
Villanueva's lawyers further argue in their court papers that it is "frankly impossible'' for Villanueva to be a defendant in a defamation action in his individual capacity because the letter was written on LASD letterhead and it was penned in response to a mandate by the Board of Supervisors to county department heads to use Fulgent for coronavirus testing purposes.
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"Because Sheriff Villanueva never acted in his individual capacity at any relevant time regarding the letter, (Fulgent) has no right to search any records concerning his personal cell phone or personal email accounts and discovery of such is excessively intrusive of his privacy,'' Villanueva's lawyers state in their court papers.
According to the Fulgent petition, Villanueva made the China claim and other false statements about Fulgent even though the FBI neither accused the company of wrongdoing nor alluded to any evidence that Fulgent provided or would provide private medical information to the Asian nation.
Villanueva knew that the statements he published about Fulgent were false five days later, and the county emailed its employees stating, "The county has no evidence from any law enforcement agency or any other source that any county employee data has been or will be shared with the Chinese government,'' according to the petition.
Villanueva's statements were shared on social media, including those of some anti-vaccine activists, and led to a protest against Fulgent on Dec. 14, the petition states. In addition, a window was shot out at Fulgent's Temple City headquarters, according to the petition.
A case management conference in the Fulgent petition is scheduled March 9.