BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — After Ammon Bundy repeatedly failed to appear in court, a judge entered a default order against the far-right activist in a lawsuit filed by St. Luke’s Health System — which essentially could mean that Bundy has forfeited the case.
The order came after a week of tension in the case. An Ada County judge issued a civil arrest warrant for Bundy, and the Idaho Supreme Court was asked to step in to compel the Gem County Sheriff’s Office to serve legal papers to Bundy. The sheriff’s office had said it was going to refuse, indicating that doing so could endanger deputies and noting that Bundy was “becoming more and more aggressive” toward civil process servers.
St. Luke’s filed the lawsuit last May after Bundy and an associate, Diego Rodriguez, led protests at the hospital over a child welfare case involving Rodriguez’s grandchild, the Idaho Statesman previously reported. The lawsuit names as defendants Bundy, Rodriguez, Bundy’s People’s Rights Network, and other business entities affiliated with Bundy and Rodriguez. The suit claims the defendants posted lies about the hospital system online.
Bundy has chosen not to participate in the lawsuit. He failed to appear in court four times, and the defendants also refused to comply with discovery requests.
Fourth District Judge Lynn Norton issued a civil arrest warrant last Tuesday for contempt of court at the plaintiff’s request, and then issued the default judgment Monday. Idaho Rule 55 mandates that when one party has “failed to plead or otherwise defend,” the judge must enter such a default order, according to the Idaho State Bar Association.
The order means that because the defense failed to participate in the litigation, the plaintiff’s allegations will be taken as true and the court will move to the next step in the legal process by determining damages.
St. Luke’s attorney Erik Stidham told the Idaho Statesman by phone that the judge will hold a hearing to decide whether she or a jury should determine damages.
“They then hear evidence from our clients about the amount of damages they’ve suffered and about the amount of punitive damages that are appropriate,” Stidham said. “And then they make a ruling just like they would at trial about how much they believe St. Luke’s and the individual plaintiffs are entitled to for damages. Then they determine whether any punitive damages or damages to punish the parties are appropriate, and how much.”
The judge also filed an order on Monday compelling Bundy and the defendants to do several things. Bundy must answer document requests made by St. Luke’s by May 8 and sit for a deposition by May 24. Bundy’s gubernatorial campaign committee, Ammon Bundy for Governor, and his People’s Rights Network must do the same, plus designate a representative for the deposition by May 1.
“What nobody’s really seen before are the financial documents and information relating to how Mr. Bundy is paid and compensated by PRN, and how the money moves between Bundy and PRN and his governor’s campaign,” Stidham said.
Stidham said St. Luke’s especially wants those documents because they could back up allegations that the defendants lied about the hospital for monetary gain.
“We think that they took advantage of the situation and turned it into a grift to feed this machine that Mr. Bundy has built in the People’s Rights Network in order to raise his profile, get more members in the People’s Rights Network and profit financially,” Stidham said.
Failure to comply with the judge’s order could lead to further repercussions, including contempt of court and monetary fines.
The default order may not come as a surprise to Bundy, who indicated in a video on Wednesday that he doesn’t want to fight the lawsuit.
“I’ve asked for St. Luke’s to leave me alone,” Bundy said in the video. “They haven’t. I haven’t fought them in the courts and have expected the judge to give them default judgment so they can try to take my coat.”
Yet Bundy seemed to contradict this attitude at other times. Gem County Sheriff Donnie Wunder said Bundy has been avoiding servers and has been confrontational when they succeed in contacting him.
St. Luke’s and Wunder said in a joint statement on Thursday that they were concerned about the situation escalating and “agree that Mr. Bundy poses a real threat of physical violence.”
Bundy, known for armed standoffs with federal officials in 2014 and 2016, has suggested he could take a similar position if pushed in the St. Luke’s lawsuit. He told the Idaho Dispatch in December that he would “meet ’em on the front door with my friends and a shotgun.”
In newly published bodycam footage from the 4/6 Bundy process servicing incident, Ammon exposes his violent temper and inadvertently reveals who actually owns the property. Bundy repeatedly calls it "my property" and shouts, "I bought the place, not you!" pic.twitter.com/uX9wXmXvIC
— Devin Burghart (@dburghart) April 22, 2023
Bundy’s group sent two identical notifications to members on Monday, at 9:30 a.m. and 10:19 a.m.
“PEOPLE’S RIGHTS EMERGENCY ALERT- Ammon Bundys home in idaho is currently surrounded by law enforcement. He is calling for people to come to his aid. 4615 Harvest Lane, Emmett Idaho. Please spread the word as best you can and respond if possible. Call Gem County Sheriff and let them know this is not OK,” the message read.
A third message sent at 12:47 p.m. invited people to a barbecue at Bundy’s house Monday night at 6.
The Gem County Sheriff’s Office told the Statesman that no deputies were at Bundy’s home as of 10 a.m. on Monday.
“We’ve gotten several phone calls here recently from people that are under the assumption that we’re ‘surrounding his home.’ That’s a quote from a caller, not from me,” the dispatcher said by phone. “And that’s not accurate. That is not happening.”
Statesman journalists went to Bundy’s house and saw no police activity.
In a Facebook Live video from about 9 a.m. on Monday, Bundy supporter Garth Gaylord can be seen driving toward Bundy’s home. Near the home, he passes a white truck marked as a sheriff’s truck and a second unmarked white truck, both driving away. Gaylord arrives and talks to multiple men standing on a porch. One of the men tells Gaylord that deputies asked whether Ammon was home.
“I have no idea,” the man in the video said he responded. “I know my dad’s not here.”
The sheriff’s office confirmed that a “minimal” number of deputies had briefly stopped by Bundy’s home, but he was not there and they left. The office said it had not had contact or arrested Bundy as of 2 p.m. Monday.
Bundy did not respond to the Statesman’s request for comment.