The former leader of a neo-Nazi organization will have seven days to comply with plaintiffs’ discovery requests after they alleged he found ways to avoid producing court-ordered evidence in a federal lawsuit against him and others.
In a telephonic hearing Friday in federal court in Charlottesville, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel C. Hoppe heard arguments on a February motion requesting sanctions against Jeff Schoep.
Schoep, the former leader of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, is one of many defendants in the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit filed in October 2017 by a group of Charlottesville residents against organizers and key participants in the Aug. 12, 2017, Unite the Right rally that resulted in the murder of a counter-protester.
Over the past year, Schoep has failed to comply with court-ordered discovery, said Michael L. Bloch, an attorney for the plaintiffs, during the Friday hearing. Schoep and the other defendants were ordered to turn over certain electronic devices and social media credentials to a third-party vendor to be scanned and flagged for content relevant to the lawsuit.
According to Bloch, Schoep has failed to submit his laptop and email and social media credentials, among other things.
“In short, we don’t have any documents from any electronic devices,” Bloch said Friday. “The only device he’s submitted — a cellphone — he reported was damaged when he dropped it in the toilet and had no recoverable files.”
William ReBrook, Schoep’s latest attorney, said his client didn’t have administrative access to several of the sought accounts and didn’t know what a couple of them were.
Hoppe expressed distrust of Schoep’s claims, citing an April 2018 admission by Schoep under oath to being the owner and/or operator of several online accounts, including BitChute, a video hosting site.
“How can you say he doesn’t know what they are?” Hoppe said. “He admitted to knowing what they are last year.”
“I’m just telling you what was told to me, your honor,” ReBrook replied.
The evidence sought by the plaintiffs is primarily concerned with communications between the defendants, and ReBrook argued that some of the requests, such as administrative access to the National Socialist Movement’s sales site, nsmrecords.com, were beyond the scope of discovery and were intended to gain customers’ personal information in order to “dox” them, or reveal private details online to shame or harass them.
Bloch pointed out that a protective order was in place and that the plaintiffs were uninterested in customer information and simply wanted access to any potential communication between parties.
Hoppe said he would issue an order requiring Schoep to comply with various discovery requests within seven days. He indicated he would likely issue the order either Friday or Monday.
If Schoep does not comply, he could face sanctions in the form of fines and plaintiff attorney fees.
“I rarely award attorney fees in civil cases,” Hoppe said. “I view it as a way to compel compliance.”
Schoep is not the only defendant not to comply with discovery; the plaintiffs also have filed for sanctions against white supremacists Elliot Kline and Matthew Heimbach, as well as the neo-Nazi organization Vanguard America.
No hearings have been set for those motions yet.