Nunes changes tactics from filing civil lawsuits to criminal complaints

After a series of failed civil lawsuits, Congressmember Devin Nunes has changed his strategy to filing criminal complaints. While civil lawsuits are subject to anti-SLAPP laws that could result in their dismissal, criminal complaints are not.

On August 13, the Tulare County District Attorney’s office filed a misdemeanor criminal complaint that states, “On or about January 20, 2020, in the County of Tulare, the crime of ANNOYING TELEPHONE CALLS, in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 653M(a), a MISDEMEANOR, was committed by WILLIAM JOSEPH BURDEN.”

The complaint alleges that Burden unlawfully contacted Elizabeth Nunes, Devin Nunes’ wife, either by phone or electronically.

Maggie Melo, of the Law Offices of Melo and Sarsfield, is representing Burden and will appear on his behalf at the Tulare County Superior Court for the October 27 hearing.

“He’s never called her,” said Melo

The term “annoying telephone calls” is legal language used to describe the misdemeanor, but can also refer to electronic communications.

Because Burden has never been in communication with Mrs. Nunes, he thinks he might have made a Facebook comment sometime in January.

Burden, who lives in Los Angeles, has no ties to the City of Tulare or Tulare County. “They may not even have the correct person,” said Melo.

Although the Daily Wire characterized Burden as using obscene language and said he threatened to inflict injury to her or her property and family, Melo said that is not in the complaint.

The district attorney would not have waited nine months to file felony charges if threats to inflict injury had been made. If any threats had been made, Melo said, the District Attorney’s office would have filed a felony, not a misdemeanor complaint.

“The FBI would have been sent out immediately,” said Melo.

“My client is completely confused as to what this is all about. He has not threatened anyone,” Melo said.

The DA won’t give us anything

“We have not been given enough information to even defend our client,” said Melo.

Criminal complaints need to include specifics of what the defendant allegedly did, she said.  “In a murder case the defendant is told who he is accused of murdering.”

Because the TCDA office has not provided enough information, Melo is considering filing a demurrer to request more information before the case proceeds.

“The DA has provided nothing. After multiple requests they haven’t even sent us the complaint,” she said.

Melo said that if the demurrer was granted, the District Attorney would have to reveal exactly what Burden is accused of saying or doing — but there are risks.

The prosecution could also add more charges, she said, opening Burden up to the possibility of being arrested.

Very Litigious

Until the current criminal complaint, Nunes has been focusing on filing multiple defamation lawsuits adding up to half a billion dollars’ worth of damages.

But, according to Anti-SLAPP laws, public figures who file defamation lawsuits are liable to paying for the defendants’ legal bills. Anti-SLAPP laws were put in place to protect regular citizens’ First Amendment right to free speech.

Nunes has filed civil lawsuits against CNN, The Washington Post, the McClatchy newspaper publishing corporation, Twitter and Republican strategist Liz Mair in Virginia courts where Anti-SLAPP laws are much weaker than in California.

Nunes has also sued journalist Ryan Lizza and Esquire Magazine publisher Hearst over a 2018 article about Nunes’ family moving their dairy to Iowa. He is also suing Fusion GPS and Campaign for Accountability which filed ethics complaints against him. Nunes has warned that lawsuits against his former opponent Andrew Janz and California Congressmember Ted Lieu are in the works.

Nunes also sued Dinuba farmer Paul Buxman, librarian Hope Nisly and agrarian scholar Daniel O’Connell, all of whom questioned his “farmer” designation on the ballot. He dropped the suits after being criticized for suing a local farmer and one of his constituents. The backlash he received might explain why Nunes chose someone from Los Angeles for his criminal complaint.

Nunes’ expensive lawsuits have been seen as a “shot across the bow” or a warning to others who might think about criticizing the congressmember. The criminal complaint in turn will make citizens reconsider criticizing Nunes on social media.

“He is trying by any means to suppress the First Amendment,” said Melo.

4 thoughts on “Nunes changes tactics from filing civil lawsuits to criminal complaints

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  1. The congressman has thin skin. He’s learned from the Puppet Master in the White House, don’t say boo to me or I’ll sue you. What does this local congressman do for his constituents, Nothing! He’s made a fool of himself on the national scene, and with the exception of the racist ignorant night time phonies on the Fox News network, no other creditable news channel will listen to his lies pumping up der Trump! That’s all he’s good for; if he’s really a farmer he should quit the charade of pretending to know what he’s doing in Washington and return to “The Farm”!

    • Exactly correct. And, I hope the DA gives him what he wants, a jury trial, so he can explain to all the jurors the suffering he’s gone thru. All the bad words that he didn’t hear. I wonder if he understands that he will be a witness and the defendant’s attorney will get to question him? And the news reporters will be there and listening. What an entertainment opportunity he will provide. Maybe Devin’s cow will be there too.

  2. He hasn’t made a fool of himself. He’s making everyone in his district look like fools for re-electing him. He needs to go. Vote him out.

  3. The first sentence in this story is just terrible. Congressmembers cannot “file criminal complaints”. That is the job of District Attorney Offices.
    Now if you want to allege that the DA is doing the bidding of their Congressman and filing a junk case to try to deflect from the stupidity and corruption of one of the biggest idiots in Congress, then I am open to hearing that. Nunes is the very same clown who thought you should visit a pub as covid was spreading.

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