The school district that employs Rep. Devin Nunes’ wife has no records that show public employees feared harassment after Democratic activists filed a public records request seeking her emails, according to documents obtained by McClatchy.
The records contradict claims Nunes, R-Tulare, made in two lawsuits in which he said a progressive group had requested his wife’s work emails from her school and “doxxed” her and her coworkers by publishing their emails and personal information online.
Nunes in the lawsuits said that resulted in harassment of the teachers and increased security at the school, as well as thousands of dollars in expenses.
The school says it has no records of teachers reporting harassment or increased security measures, although it spent more than $17,000 in legal fees responding to the document request. The district refused to provide more information on how it spent the money, citing attorney-client privilege.
Devin Nunes is married to Elizabeth Nunes, who is an elementary school teacher in the Sundale Union Elementary School District.
Michael Seeley, a Los Angeles member of the political group Southern California Americans for Democratic Action, filed a public records request in early 2018 seeking all emails to and from her school district email dating back to 2013, with exceptions for emails that concerned individual students.
The group Campaign for Accountability then cited emails from that public records request in a complaint filed against Devin Nunes in July 2018, alleging he had not properly disclosed his financial interests as required of members of Congress.
The email at issue was sent to Elizabeth Nunes about paperwork and funds to become a partner in the wine company Phase 2 Cellars. The public link cited in the complaint does not include any teacher emails or names besides Elizabeth Nunes’.
Nunes first complained about the public records request in a lawsuit in which he attempted to sue a retired Tulare County farmer and several Democratic activists who in 2018 contested Nunes’ description of himself as a farmer on ballots. Nunes, who grew up in a dairy family, won the challenge and was allowed to describe himself as a congressman and farmer.
He dropped that lawsuit this month. In the complaint, he accused Campaign for Accountability and Seeley of working together to request the emails, “targeting” his wife, doxxing teachers and “costing the Tulare County Office of Education thousands of dollars in unnecessary cost and expense.”
Doxxing is a kind of online harassment that involves publishing someone’s contact information, such as a phone number or email address.
Nunes filed another lawsuit in Virginia against political research firm Fusion GPS and Campaign for Accountability that included the same accusations.
“Seeley published Elizabeth Nunes’ emails online and included the names and email addresses of numerous school administrators and teachers, resulting in extensive harassment of these innocent, hard-working citizens of Tulare County, including hateful accusations that they teach bigotry and racism,” the still-active lawsuit states. “In fact, the school was so concerned about security problems resulting from this situation that it adopted enhanced security measures.”
When McClatchy requested any correspondence from staff about feeling harassed or documents related to enhanced security measures from the Tulare County Office of Education, officials there said they had nothing to do with it and directed McClatchy to the Sundale Union Elementary School District.
Terri Rufert, the Sundale superintendent, declined to comment on any harassment or security issues. When McClatchy filed a public records request for that information, Rufert said the district “does not have any records responsive to these requests.”
However, Rufert said the district had spent $17,455 of taxpayer dollars in legal fees due to the public records requests. The request generated more than 7,000 pages of emails. It included names, email addresses and in some instances phone number of school staff.
The email cited in the complaint by Campaign for Accountability against Devin Nunes did not include identifying information of staff besides Elizabeth Nunes.
The full emails were published on Seeley’s Scribd account online, which requires a paid account for full access, but not publicized elsewhere until Nunes’ lawsuit, which links directly to the full trove of those emails.
Rufert declined to give any description of the legal work, citing attorney-client privilege, but provided invoices showing an outside Fresno law firm had nine attorneys providing legal services for about 80 total hours on the request, charging $235 per hour. The work descriptions were all redacted on those invoices. Seeley was not charged anything for the documents, Rufert said.
Glen Smith, litigation director for the First Amendment Coalition, which frequently deals with legal issues over public records requests, said the amount did sound high to pay an outside law firm for one request, but not totally implausible for a sizable request that would involve the review and possible redaction of so many emails. It’s also possible the district spent some legal capital to deny the request, he said.
“These things do go through a pattern of an initial denial or partial denial, then a response and additional correspondence that involves an attorney,” Smith said.
Devin Nunes has filed two other lawsuits that are still active, both in Virginia. One is against Twitter, two parody accounts and Republican strategist Liz Mair, whom Nunes accuses of conspiring to defame him on the internet. The defendants in that case have argued to dismiss the lawsuit based on Virginia being the wrong venue, a motion that is still awaiting a judge’s decision.
Nunes also is suing McClatchy, the parent company of The Fresno Bee, alleging that a newspaper article about an employee’s lawsuit against a company in which he has a limited partnership defamed him. Sacramento-based McClatchy has filed a motion to dismiss that case, also, arguing that Nunes has no grounds to sue the California newspaper company in Virginia.