Circuit Judge Holly Meyer is ordering Hunter Biden to come to Arkansas next month for a deposition, rejecting claims that he's too busy to make the trip until April.
"He needs to make himself available and unless his hair is on fire, he needs to be in Arkansas and he needs to be in a deposition," she told lawyers in the case during an afternoon telephone conference call.
Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, is the defendant in a paternity suit filed by Lunden Alexis Roberts of Independence County. The court determined in January that based on a DNA test, Hunter Biden is the father of her toddler, initially referred to in court filings as Baby Doe.
Child support still needs to be set, but Biden has delayed supplying full financial records, court files show.
In a signed Nov. 27 affidavit, Biden swore that he is unemployed and said he hasn't had a monthly income since May.
Roberts' attorney, Clint Lancaster, had tried, without success, to schedule a deposition before a pretrial hearing, which is set for March 13.
After reaching an impasse, he filed a notice of deposition Monday instructing Biden to appear in Little Rock on March 5.
But Biden's attorney, Brent Langdon, said it would be "unduly burdensome and oppressive" for Biden to show up that day. He asked the court to intervene.
Biden "can be available April 1, 2020," Langdon wrote in a "motion to quash" and "motion for protective order" filed Tuesday. "My client cannot be available prior to that date."
During Wednesday's conference call, Meyer pressed Langdon to explain his client's unavailability, noting Biden's purported work status.
"My question to you is, why could your client not be available until after April 1? All the information I have is that he's unemployed," she said.
Langdon did not tell the court what was keeping Biden so busy.
When deposition dates were being considered, "I did not have his calendar per se," Langdon said. "My client stated that he was not going to be available until after April 1."
During the call, Meyer expressed dissatisfaction with the explanations she had been offered thus far.
"It's not good enough for him to just say, 'I'm not available.' That's not good enough. I need to know why he's not available or where he is or what could possibly be more important than what's going on in this case," Meyer said. "And again, the only information I have is that your client's not employed right now, so it's not a work excuse. So what is it?"
Langdon offered no details about his client's whereabouts or activities.
After hearing from both attorneys and asking about their calendars, Meyer rejected the March 5 date Lancaster had originally sought as well as the April 1 date proposed by Langdon.
Instead, Biden will need to show up on either March 11 or March 12 to answer questions, the judge stated.
Anticipating that she'll need to resolve disputes arising from the discovery process, Meyer said she wants the deposition to take place before the March 13 pretrial hearing "so that we're actually prepared for our May 13 final hearing."
"This matter's been pending for 10 months now," Meyer said. "If we put these important parts of discovery off until after that pretrial hearing ... we're putting ourselves in a posture to continue, continue, continue. And that's not good for anyone in this case," she said.
Lancaster said he would be available on March 11 or 12. Langdon said he would, as well.
But he made no promises about Biden's attendance.
"I'm not representing to the court his availability on those two days, but I understand the court's order," Langdon said.
While seeking to block next week's deposition, Biden's attorney had asked the court in his motion to seal all future notices of deposition, saying that public disclosure "only ignites media attention and awareness of the deposition."
The notice of deposition, submitted on Roberts' behalf, had been filed in order to "unreasonably 'annoy, embarrass, or oppress'" his client, Langdon had written.
Meyer disagreed, calling the filings "pretty standard fare."
She thanked both attorneys for "working diligently" on the case.
Thus far, Biden hasn't attended any of the court proceedings.
In January, after Biden was accused of improperly withholding financial records, Meyer ordered him to appear in her court and "show cause, if any exists, as to why he should not be held in contempt for any of the alleged violations of this Court's orders."
Biden, who denied the allegation, subsequently reached an agreement with Roberts to pay temporary child support, retroactive to Nov. 1, 2018, as well as a sum for her attorneys' fees and costs.
The figures weren't publicly disclosed.
The agreed order, signed by Meyer on Jan. 27, also gave Biden more time to turn over records, and removed the Jan. 29 contempt hearing from the docket.
If Biden provides "all outstanding discovery or previously ordered documents" by this Sunday, then the contempt motions, relating to document production and discovery, will be dismissed, Meyer stated in that January order.
Roberts, an Arkansas State University graduate, filed the paternity suit against Biden in May, seeking a determination of paternity as well as child support.
The couple met while Roberts was living in Washington, D.C., according to Lancaster. The child was born in August 2018.
After originally denying that he'd had sexual relations with Roberts, Biden took a DNA test in November. It showed, "with near scientific certainty," that he is the dad, Meyer declared in a Jan. 7 order.
With the court finding that Biden is the baby's "biological and legal father," Meyer must now determine child support obligations.
The judge's latest ruling comes less than a week before Arkansas' presidential primaries on Tuesday; Joe Biden is on the Democratic ballot. He is third in the delegate race.
The paternity and child-support dispute has played out in the midst of the presidential campaign and it overlapped with the recent impeachment inquiry.
The younger Biden had served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, while his father was helping to spearhead U.S. anti-corruption efforts in that country.
President Donald Trump's call for Ukrainian officials to investigate the Bidens' Ukrainian dealings helped spark the impeachment proceedings that ultimately ended with Trump's acquittal.
During the impeachment trial, most Republicans argued that Trump had raised legitimate concerns about the Bidens. Democrats accused Trump of smearing a political foe in order to boost his own reelection prospects.
While acknowledging that his Ukrainian board membership reflected "poor judgment," Hunter Biden told ABC News in October that it did not constitute "an ethical lapse."
Joe Biden, in an interview this month with NBC Today host Savannah Guthrie, dismissed criticism of his son.
"No one's found anything wrong with his dealings with Ukraine except they say it sets a bad image," he said.
Joe Biden's campaign spokesmen did not return phone calls Wednesday seeking comment.
In an email to reporters Wednesday, Danielle Alvarez, spokeswoman for the Trump Victory fundraising committee, highlighted Hunter Biden's efforts to delay the deposition.
"The timing of his high-profile legal battle couldn't be worse for his father Joe Biden and his struggling presidential campaign," wrote Alvarez.
In a telephone interview Wednesday evening, Lancaster said the lawsuit isn't the result of political animus.
With the March 13 pretrial date nearing and no deposition scheduled, it was necessary to seek court intervention, he said.
"Super Tuesday had nothing to do with it. My client wants everyone to know that she's not out to get Hunter Biden. She's not out to get Joe Biden. She's not trying to affect any presidential campaigns," he said.
A Section on 02/27/2020