Ammon Bundy and Diego Rodriguez seemed to be testing the limits of the judicial system Tuesday, as they continued to ignore a judge’s order and didn’t show up in court for the second time in a lawsuit brought by St. Luke’s Health System.
Gesturing to an empty defendant’s bench Tuesday afternoon, an attorney for St. Luke’s remarked to the judge that Idaho’s justice system “contemplates the parties actually participating” in the legal process.
“It’s likely that we’re going to be frequently needing the court’s help to move this along,” the attorney said.
The hearing allowed Bundy and Rodriguez to explain to District Judge Lynn Norton why they ignored her orders to answer questions by Aug. 5 about their organizations — People’s Rights Network and Freedom Man PAC/Freedom Man Press — including who is behind them and who published content on their websites.
Shortly before the hearing, Rodriguez submitted his defense in the overall lawsuit but didn’t provide the information he was ordered to provide. His defense filing was not available to the public by the end of the day.
Norton gave Bundy, who is running as an independent for governor in the Nov. 8 general election, and Rodriguez another opportunity to comply. She found the men in contempt of court but explained she wanted to “try lesser sanctions” before considering more punitive measures.
Norton said Bundy must sit for a deposition to answer the questions by Sept. 30, and Rodriguez must sit for a deposition by Oct. 7, because it appears he is in Florida. She set a timeline for St. Luke’s and the defendants to follow. If Bundy and Rodriguez don’t follow the timeline or appear for their depositions, they could face additional punishment, she said.
Bundy, Rodriquez to pay court-related costs
The consequence of their inaction so far: Bundy and Rodriguez must pay for their own depositions, including St. Luke’s attorneys’ fees and the cost of hiring a court reporter.
“These are costs that would not have been incurred” if they had responded, Norton said.
That, again, assumes they will appear for the depositions. She said it was too early to consider jail time or more punitive sanctions.
St. Luke’s also recently asked the court for a default order in its lawsuit against Bundy, Rodriguez and their organizations — a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs when the defendants fail to respond in court to the allegations against them.
The lawsuit stems from a child protection case in which Rodriguez’s grandson was removed from his family and admitted to the hospital for severe malnourishment, after state officials said his parents failed to take him to follow-up visits with his pediatric provider.
Bundy ignored the proceedings and Rodriguez was unable to be located, according to motions and affidavits filed by St. Luke’s Health System and its fellow plaintiffs — St. Luke’s CEO Chris Roth, the health system’s Boise hospital, and two health care providers.
Rodriguez told the Idaho Statesman in July that he had moved to another country, according to Statesman reporting.
The lawsuit filed in May accused the men and their closely linked political organizations — People’s Rights Network and Freedom Man PAC — of defamation and harassment.
While Rodriguez’s grandson was hospitalized at St. Luke’s, the men and their organizations urged their followers to protest at St. Luke’s and to contact the hospital to urge the release of the baby to his parents — a decision that, in a child protection case, a hospital cannot make.
The groups and their followers also singled out health care providers and others associated with the child protection case.
Bundy, Rodriguez and their organizations launched “a knowingly dishonest and baseless smear campaign,” St. Luke’s lawsuit said. The false claims included that St. Luke’s “engaged in widespread kidnapping, trafficking, and killing of Idaho children,” it said.
During and after the boy’s hospitalization, Rodriguez directed visitors to his website to an online fundraiser that received more than $100,000 in contributions.
— Audrey Dutton is a senior reporter for the Idaho Capital Sun. This article was originally published on idahocapitalsun.com.