Lawyers for a coronavirus testing company asked a judge Friday to allow them to conduct preliminary discovery ahead of the filing of a potential defamation suit against Sheriff Alex Villanueva, but attorneys for the sheriff maintained the firm is trying 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.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elaine Lu did not immediately rule on Fulgent’s discovery request and took the case under submission.
The letter to the Board of Supervisors referred to an FBI briefing Villanueva said took place the day after Thanksgiving.
In its preliminary discovery petition Jan. 21, Fulgent asks for 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. Villanueva’s attorneys urged the judge to reject the request by Fulgent and outlined their objections ahead of Friday’s hearing with their court papers.
“The petition is superfluous, pointless and obviously done to harass Sheriff Villanueva,” the sheriff’s attorneys stated in their court papers. “Evidently, petitioners want to waste valuable judicial resources and the parties’ time by filing this petition.”
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 sheriff’s’ department letterhead and was written in response to a mandate by the Board of Supervisors to county department heads to use Fulgent for coronavirus testing purposes.
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’s statements were shared on social media, including those of some anti-vaccine activists, and led to a protest against Fulgent and a window being shot out at the company’s Temple City headquarters, according to the petition.