A judge Thursday ordered lawyers for a coronavirus testing company to refile documents previously submitted on Jan. 27, but this time without the home address of Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who is the subject of a potential defamation suit by the company.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elaine Lu granted the application to seal brought by Villanueva’s attorneys. The order is directed at Fulgent Genetics Inc. and its subsidiary, Fulgent Therapeutics LLC. The firms 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’s court papers that have been ordered to be refiled without Villanueva’s address dealt with unsuccessful efforts to serve Villanueva at either his home or his workplace with a petition Fulgent filed Jan. 21, seeking to conduct preliminary discovery ahead of the potential defamation suit. One of the filings ordered sealed was a declaration from a process server.
The Fulgent attorneys did not take a position on the sealing application, but defended their actions in their court papers.
“What (Villanueva’s attorneys) fail to disclose to this court is that his home address is already well known to the public and has been long before (Fulgent) included it in their pleadings — it is publicly available and easily accessible on the internet,” the Fulgent lawyers state in their court papers.
According to the 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 China. 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.
The Fulgent petition seeks a court order directing Villanueva to produce any personal and sheriff’s department-issued cellphone 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.