In early 2021, Sammich Schott-Deputy was living in a Safe Rest Village not far from the Multnomah County Courthouse in Portland, wearing a GPS ankle bracelet as part of court-ordered probation.
Inside the same courthouse that kept records about Schott-Deputy’s whereabouts and their upcoming court hearings, attorneys for far-right blogger Andy Ngo argued Schott-Deputy couldn’t be reached to be served in-person with legal papers. Instead, as reported by the Oregonian, a judge granted permission for “alternative service,” by publishing legal notices in the Oregonian as a means of notifying Schott-Deputy and another defendant of a lawsuit Ngo brought against them.
Through his legal team, Ngo told the court that a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy tried to serve legal papers to Schott-Deputy at an address in Azalea in 2020, to no avail. That’s because Schott-Deputy says they hadn’t used that address since 2015. In fact, for most of their adult life, they’ve been homeless.
In court filings, Ngo said he “hired two different investigative firms to assist in locating Defendants,” but investigators couldn’t come up with anything other than old addresses.
Schott-Deputy is one of three people named in Ngo's lawsuit who didn't appear in court earlier this month, or respond to a legal summons. Despite Ngo losing against two other defendants in his case at trial, a Multnomah County judge awarded Ngo $300,000 in damages earlier this week. By order of default, those who didn't attend the trial—including Schott-Deputy—were ordered to each pay Ngo $100,000.
That ruling, which is now being challenged in court, raises questions about Oregon's laws for legal notices, and the ethics of saddling someone who may not have known they were a party to a lawsuit, with six figures of debt.
An attorney is now asking the court to overturn the default judgment against Schott-Deputy, "as a matter of law and fundamental fairness," noting normal legal processes were either skirted or not followed in good faith.
“I was never legally served,” Schott-Deputy told the Mercury. Schott-Deputy, whose legal name at the time was Joseph Christian Evans, was one of a handful of people Ngo sued for allegedly assaulting him at different times from 2019 to 2021, primarily during antifascist protests in Portland.
Ngo, an editor-at-large for the far-right blog The Post Millennial, has made a career out of filming protests–often posting raw footage out of context–and promoting stories that largely seek to discredit Portland’s antifascist or “Antifa” movement.
In 2019, Ngo claims he was punched during a May 1 “May Day” protest that led to a brawl between Rose City Antifa and Patriot Prayer. A few months later, at a different event, Ngo was hit with a milkshake during a demonstration in downtown Portland. That same year, he had water poured on him and a cellphone smacked out of his hand at a Portland gym by a man who confronted him about perceived dishonest, harmful reporting by Ngo. In 2021, Ngo was assaulted by a small group, after covertly filming a group of activists who had gathered earlier that day to commemorate the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death.
In a civil lawsuit, Ngo sought damages against six people, including Schott-Deputy, that he alleged were part of, or aided in, the various assaults on him. The only evidence against Schott-Deputy was a still shot from 2019 video footage in Portland that showed Schott-Deputy in the background.
“I didn’t know who Andy Ngo was at the time,” Schott-Deputy said of that day in 2019, when Ngo had a milkshake thrown at him. Schott-Deputy was arrested that day for intervening in a fight, but said the charges were unrelated, and they had no part in throwing anything at Ngo. At the time, Ngo was relatively unknown.
Schott-Deputy, 39, said the first inkling of Ngo’s lawsuit came in 2020, while they were in jail and recalled hearing something about a lawsuit they’d been named in, but hadn’t seen any legal forms or correspondence.
“The court appointed legal counsel in my criminal case told me there was nothing he could do for me [in the other case] because it was a civil matter,” Schott-Deputy recalled. “I just assumed that because I was deeply embedded in the legal system then, they could find me, assuredly. Come to find out, that’s not the case.”
Years went by and Schott-Deputy heard nothing of the case, assuming it had been dismissed, until a few weeks ago.
“I had gone so long not hearing anything else about it,” they said. “It wasn’t again until August 4, I was up in the morning drinking coffee, scanning the news, and for the first time in years, I see a thing about the Andy Ngo trial kicking off.”
Schott-Deputy says they went down to the courthouse to try to speak to the judge and straighten things out, but was denied entry into the courtroom by a bailiff. Earlier in the trial, Judge Chanpone Sinlapasai closed the hearings to the public, citing security concerns and disruptions.
“I walked in, explained to the bailiff that I'm a defendant in this case, and they said, ‘No, you've gotta go.’”
The judge asserted the trial was too far along to change course and allow Schott-Deputy to participate, and instructed the bailiff to keep Schott-Deputy out.
Dorothy Yamamoto, an attorney for Ngo, said Oregon's laws don't require a plaintiff to continue attempts to track down someone they're seeking to sue, even if they can't be sure whether someone saw or received the notice.
"The Oregon laws about service are pretty straight forward. We abided by them and the court agreed we did our due diligence,” Yamamoto said. "Service by [newspaper] publication was given the court’s approval."
Once an alternative service method is approved by a judge, the defendant won't see any notifications about the case or the trial from the plaintiff or the courts.
Despite claims from Ngo's lawyers that they couldn’t track down Schott-Deputy to provide proper legal notification of the lawsuit and trial, Schott-Deputy's attorney noted they should've been acutely aware of how to access court records, which often provide current addresses or contact information.
Oregon's guidance for serving legal papers notes a plaintiff must prove to the court that they've exhausted other efforts to contact the involved party, including "searching court records and the internet" before being allowed to use an alternative service method, such as newspaper ads.
In July, shortly after a judge granted defaults against the no-show defendants, Ngo was quick to post a comprehensive summary of Schott-Deputy's legal affairs online, including a filing for a name and gender change in late 2022 after getting married, nearly eight months before the trial started. Ngo alleged the changes were an effort to evade the pending litigation, but Schott-Deputy's attorney, Clifford Davidson, says his client was never informed of the lawsuit and was incarcerated when the legal notices were published in a local newspaper.
In a trial that wrapped up August 8, two defendants in Ngo’s lawsuit were found not liable by a jury. Another defendant was dismissed from the case before trial, and three others were found in default weeks before the trial kicked off.
Late last week, Schott-Deputy learned they were one of the three found in default and ordered to pay $100,000 to Ngo.
“I’ve spent most of my adult life as a transient,” Schott-Deputy told the Mercury. "I’ve tried to turn my life around over the last few years. I’m clean, I'm sober, I have a full time job. I'm gainfully employed, happily married. I’m trying to find new value in this existence.”
Schott-Deputy says the judge's decision feels unjust, and the hefty legal fees threaten that newfound security and stability.
“I’m frustrated. I’m angry, I’m upset, but moreover, I’m greatly disappointed,” they said. “I’m finally feeling like I'm earning a place in this life. I'm heartbroken and crushed.”
In court filings this week, Davidson, the attorney for Schott-Deputy, motioned the court to reverse the default judgment, noting critical legal steps were missed. Davidson said Ngo's legal team didn't file a request for the default judgment and failed to file timely or appropriate paperwork that would allow a judge to rule against the remaining defendants with a specific dollar amount.
"This failure is more than just a technicality," Davidson wrote. "Other than a cryptic docket entry created two business days prior to the date of the prove-up hearing, no entries on the docket provided reasonable notice, in plain English, that Plaintiff intended to pursue a default judgment after losing at trial."
The court has yet to respond to Davidson's request for a follow-up hearing.
This story has been updated to clarify the legal service process and correct a quote.