A Charlottesville judge chastised two white supremacist defendants in a federal civil lawsuit but stopped short of granting the extensive sanctions requested by plaintiffs.
U.S. District Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe wrote in a motion on Friday that while several defendants could reasonably have been sanctioned for refusing to provide answers to questions and respond to discovery requests, they have begun to do the bare minimum of work required and he hopes they will continue complying with the court process in the future.
If they do not, Hoppe cautioned that he could impose harsher measures — such as considering them under civil contempt and asking the U.S. Marshals Service to arrest them, bring them to Charlottesville and detain them until they complied.
“ ‘Ordinary defendants must participate in the ordinary process of litigation,’ even if they do not want to. They cannot ‘step in and out’ of the litigation at their leisure; abandon the case because they are ‘kind of frustrated’ and do not ‘want to deal with it’; or ‘respond to a court order’ compelling discovery by firing their attorneys and refusing to show up for court,” Hoppe wrote, quoting previous court precedents and the defendants’ words from previous hearings. “On these facts, I cannot interpret [each Defendant’s] continued disregard for the Court and its orders ‘as anything other than bad faith.’ ”
The plaintiffs have pushed so hard for these defendants to be required to produce responses, Hoppe wrote, because they believe each still possesses crucial evidence about the planning of the rally.
“Plaintiffs also assert that they know Vanguard America ‘has in its possession’ potential evidence that ‘likely corroborates’ that group’s role in planning ‘the Fields car attack,’ ” Hoppe wrote.
James Alex Fields Jr., who drove his car into the crowd on Aug. 12, 2017, and has been convicted of murdering Heather Heyer and maiming dozens of other people, was seen wearing the uniform of Vanguard America. The group has denied Fields was a member.
During a hearing via telephone Thursday in Charlottesville’s federal court, attorneys for the plaintiffs said Elliott Kline had begun meeting their requests but still had a “long way to go.” Kline said Thursday he planned to turn his phone over to a third-party vendor on Friday for imaging.
Kline led Identity Evropa, a group that advocated for a white ethno-state and has now rebranded into the American Identity Movement, which espouses many of the same racist and anti-immigrant viewpoints.
The lawsuit, Sines v. Kessler, claims that Kline and other organizers and participants in the rally conspired to create a dangerous and violent environment in Charlottesville.
The plaintiffs had also asked to sanction Matthew Heimbach, the former leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party, and Dillon Hopper, aka Dillon Irizarry, the leader of the now-defunct Vanguard America, who had also ignored four attempts to gain information about their involvement with the rally.
Another defendant, neo-Nazi and University of Virginia graduate Richard Spencer, argued in a filing this month that sanctions imposed on Kline or Heimbach would adversely affect him. Hoppe has not yet responded to that filing.
A third discovery deadline for Kline is set for Wednesday.
The parties will now work to decide the level of attorney’s fees Kline, Heimbach and Hopper must pay.