Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture who fired Shirley Sherrod after Andrew Breitbart defamed her by publishing a video clip out of context, may have to testify in her libel suit against the Breitbart estate sometime within the next two weeks. But according to Josh Gerstein at Politico, that does not mean that Judge Richard Leon is going to let attorney Mark Bailen launch the fishing expedition of his dreams.
The judge was particularly skeptical about (former Breitbart editor Larry) O’Connor’s effort to seek evidence that Sherrod’s dismissal may have been related to efforts to preserve Congressional support for funding to settle a longrunning lawsuit, known as the Pigford case, which alleged racial discrimination by USDA against African-American farmers.
“There were other factors at play here,” Bailen said.
However, Sherrod attorney Beth Williams said O’Connor and Breitbart (who died in 2012 but whose wife has been substituted as a defendant) were trying to point fingers in an effort to divert attention from the role their publication played in damaging the former USDA state rural development director’s reputation.
“The defendants want to make this about everything except what they did,” Williams told Leon. “This case is about their blog post.”
“I dont’ see how Pigford has anything to do with this case—anything,” Leon declared at one point. “Do you know what a wild goose chase is, Mr. Bailen?” the judge added, in just one of the half dozen or more times he let that metaphor fly during the hearing.
Ever since Sherrod filed her lawsuit, the defense strategy has been to deflect blame on the White House and away from Andrew Breitbart’s very bad journalism and clear failures of due diligence. Both sides want access to White House documents, but whereas the plaintiff wants to present evidence that Breitbart’s libel caused her firing, Bailen’s conspiracy-mongering is clearly aimed at Benghazifying the case into a contrived embarrassment for the administration.
Leon said Monday he’s intent on getting Sherrod’s lawsuit to trial this fall, preferably in October. He said he wanted all sides to rein in their requests for documents and that starting with Vilsack’s deposition might actually help narrow the requests, since the agriculture secretary says he was the one who decided to force Sherrod to resign.
“I think they’re reaching for the moon, when all they need is a couple rocks,” the judge said. “This is being blown way out of proportion in terms of document production.”
Justice delayed is justice denied: Sherrod filed her lawsuit while Andrew Breitbart was still alive, and he has been dead for more than two years. Because he died without a will, his wife is now defending whatever remains of the ten million dollars in venture capital that he obtained before his death. In cutting the fishing trip short, Judge Leon might just make it possible for Sherrod to collect some part of that money before the last penny is spent on plagiarists and terrible journalism.