A judge has denied a petition filed by a coronavirus testing company that sought to conduct preliminary discovery ahead of the filing of a potential defamation suit against Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Fulgent Genetics Inc. and its subsidiary, Fulgent Therapeutics LLC, alleged 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 DNA data of county employees to China. The letter to the Board of Supervisors referred to an FBI briefing Villanueva said took place the day after Thanksgiving.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elaine Lu heard arguments on Friday, then took Fulgent’s discovery request under submission and ruled Tuesday.
“Petitioners Fulgent Genetics Inc. and Fulgent Therapeutics LLC’s petition for pre-filing discovery and preservation of evidence is denied in its entirety,” a minute order issued by Lu’s clerk states, with the last four words in all capital letters.
In its preliminary discovery petition Jan. 21, Fulgent asked for 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 wanted Villanueva to sit for a four-hour deposition.
Villanueva’s attorneys urged the judge to reject the request and outlined their objections ahead of Friday’s hearing.
“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 argued 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.