A Delaware judge overseeing Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News said in a pretrial hearing on Tuesday that he was still weighing whether to issue a summary judgment for either side in the case.
In a hearing in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday, lawyers for Fox News and Dominion both pushed the judge, Eric M. Davis of the Delaware Superior Court, to rule on the case without a jury. Dominion, an election technology company, is accusing Fox of spreading false claims of widespread vote-rigging in the 2020 presidential election.
“I haven’t made a decision,” Judge Davis said.
The case centers on Fox’s coverage of the 2020 election, when President Donald J. Trump and his supporters began to spread false claims about widespread voter fraud.
On Tuesday, Dominion argued that a trove of internal communications and depositions it had obtained showed that Fox executives and hosts had known that some of the claims about election fraud were false but had given them airtime anyway. Fox asked Judge Davis to dismiss the case outright, saying its actions were protected by the First Amendment.
A trial is scheduled to begin on April 17.
The lawsuit poses a sizable threat to Fox’s business and reputation. Dominion must prove that Fox knowingly broadcast false information about the company, or was reckless enough to disregard substantial evidence that the claims were not true — a legal standard known as “actual malice.” While defamation cases have traditionally proved hard to win, legal experts say Dominion may have enough evidence to clear that high bar.
Fox News v. Dominion Voter Systems
Documents from a lawsuit filed by the voting machine maker Dominion against Fox News have shed light on the debate inside the network over false claims related to the 2020 election.
Justin Nelson, a lawyer for Dominion, told the court that it had plenty of evidence that Fox knew what it was doing.
Mr. Nelson cited, for example, an excerpt from a deposition by Joe Dorrego, the chief financial officer of Fox News, who was asked whether Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, the top executives of Fox News’s parent company, knew that the claims were being aired on the network. Mr. Dorrego answered: “They were certainly aware that the allegations were being reported on Fox News.”
“They allowed people to come on the air to make those charges, despite knowing they are false,” Mr. Nelson told the judge.
Erin Murphy, a lawyer for Fox, argued in court on Tuesday that a reasonable viewer of Fox News and Fox Business would have understood that the hosts were merely reporting that the president and his lawyers were making the fraud claims, which was newsworthy, and not making factual statements.
“We do not think that we are just scot-free simply because a guest said something rather than a host,” Ms. Murphy said. “What we resist is that Dominion’s position seems to be that we are automatically liable because a guest said something.”
Ms. Murphy told the judge that there was more context for the shows and statements singled out by Dominion in its complaint that proved the hosts had been merely presenting statements of fact. As an example, she referred to a Dec. 12, 2020, broadcast of “Fox & Friends,” during which the hosts asked Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, about legal challenges relating to voter fraud.
“I don’t see how somebody watching that show thinks that by merely asking the president’s lawyer ‘What are you alleging and what evidence do you have to support it?’ the hosts are saying we believe these allegations to be true,” Ms. Murphy said.
Ms. Murphy added that there was no evidence that any Fox Corporation executive had been involved in the airing of defamatory statements.
Lawyers for Fox are scheduled to finish their arguments before the judge on Wednesday.
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