St. Luke’s Health System is having trouble getting its lawsuit against Ammon Bundy and a close associate to move forward – and not just because neither man is responding to the legal system.
Bundy, who is running for Idaho governor, and Diego Rodriguez failed to appear Tuesday at a hearing at the Ada County Courthouse, but because of paperwork errors, St. Luke’s was not granted its request to make further efforts to get the defendants to respond.
St. Luke’s filed the lawsuit in May, alleging Bundy, his activist organization – the People’s Rights Network – and Rodriguez intentionally misled followers about the circumstances of a child welfare case, and that part of their intention was to raise money and gain a bigger political following.
Their efforts, which St. Luke’s called a “knowingly dishonest and baseless smear campaign,” included claims the hospital “engaged in widespread kidnapping, trafficking, and killing of Idaho children,” according to the health system’s complaint.
Before the lawsuit can move forward, St. Luke’s must show that the defendants have been served and made aware of it – something that has proved difficult. On May 12, a process server gave legal papers to Bundy and a campaign staffer in Emmett, where Bundy lives, according to previous Idaho Statesman reporting. But since then, neither Bundy nor any lawyer on his behalf has filed a response in court.
Attempts to serve or contact Rodriguez have been unsuccessful. Rodriguez told the Statesman in June that he is living in another country. He previously told the Statesman that he was living in Florida.
Stidham pointed out that the defendants have acknowledged the lawsuit publicly, including in media interviews and blog posts. In a text message to a Statesman reporter in June, Rodriguez said “I am both happy and willing to participate in all court hearings via Zoom.”
But St. Luke’s said neither he nor Bundy has responded properly through legal channels. Because direct attempts have not been successful, Stidham requested permission from the court to post notice of the lawsuit in newspapers in Idaho and Florida.
“Whether it’s through publication, or if the court would like us to perhaps provide some additional authority or, of course, whatever the court might have in mind that the court believes is appropriate,” Stidham said. “We’re really just looking for an opportunity to move this forward.”
Fourth District Judge Lynn Norton said St. Luke’s did not correctly file the paperwork necessary for such action, including leaving out required information. As a result, the judge gave Bundy and Rodriguez a three-week extension, until Aug. 5, to respond to the lawsuit.
Norton said procedure must be followed to prevent any final judgment from being deemed invalid. She said St. Luke’s was free to make the same request at the end of the three-week extension.
“Then if you want to renew your motion for sanctions, if there’s no reply or response, then you can renew it after that time,” Norton said in court. “And I’m not trying to drive this out. But to me, if there’s not proper service, any judgment is void.”