U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch was clearly irked on Thursday with unproductive negotiation attempts on both sides of a lawsuit filed by a Jewish Whitefish woman against neo-Nazi blog publisher Andrew Anglin.
"The thing that bothered me," Lynch told the attorneys, "this is a significant case … but I'm told 'we attempted to confer telephonically, but we haven't made much headway.'"
So, rather than hearing arguments Thursday on the protective order and outstanding requests for opposing sides to turn over evidence — more than 200 such requests between the two sides — Lynch kenneled the attorneys in the jury room for more than two hours to hash it out themselves.
"I'm going to give you the opportunity to confer in person," he said.
After returning to the courtroom late Thursday afternoon, attorneys for both sides described the discussions as productive and beneficial, and asked Lynch for additional time on Friday to continue negotiations.
"Sometimes in civil litigation people don't get things done until the judge cracks their heads together," Anglin attorney Marc Randazza told the Missoulian after the hearing. "Today we got (expletive) done."
Attorneys for Anglin have asked Lynch for an order excusing him from an in-person deposition in the United States. Anglin's lawyers insist the Ohio native hasn't lived in the U.S. for years and fears for his safety if his whereabouts are disclosed.
Lawyers for Tanya Gersh, the Whitefish real estate agent singled out by Anglin's website, the Daily Stormer, say Anglin's request is baseless and fits a pattern of gamesmanship. Court records show Anglin dubiously suggested meeting them in Cuba or Venezuela.
Gersh sued Anglin in federal court after he called on his followers to conduct an "old-fashioned troll storm," distributing her family's contact information across his website and initiating a firestorm of anti-Semitism on the Jewish family.
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In a string of posts, Anglin accused Gersh and other Jewish residents of Whitefish, Montana, of engaging in an "extortion racket" against the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer. Gersh says she had agreed to help Spencer's mother sell commercial property she owns in Whitefish amid talk of a protest outside the building. Sherry Spencer, however, later accused Gersh of threatening and harassing her into agreeing to sell the property.
Gersh's attorneys say they recently deposed Richard Spencer "without incident, and without publicizing either the fact of the deposition or its location or timing." Anglin's attorneys claim Spencer's deposition is a "blatant attempt to use that information to bring unrelated claims against him in Montana."
On Thursday, David Dinielli, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Lynch the terms of the protective order, and whether Gersh's email correspondence with her rabbi are covered by clergy privilege, remained unresolved following the afternoon's conference.
After the hearing, Gersh told the Missoulian she was happy to see the deadlock giving way to communication.
"We appreciate the judge's efforts to move this process along," she said.
"The federal courts made clear they want the parties to figure things out themselves rather than putting more work on the judge," said John Morrison, a Helena attorney also representing Gersh.
Parties will return to the federal courthouse in Missoula Friday morning to continue whittling down disputes on certain materials of evidence, including documents showing communications between Anglin and other neo-Nazis ahead of the "troll storm" upon Gersh's family, Morrison told the Missoulian.
— This story contains reporting from the Associated Press.