Dominion Voting Systems’ high-stakes defamation lawsuit against Fox News, which was due to begin on Monday, was abruptly adjourned Sunday night, leading to a stunning eleventh hour turn that called into question whether a settlement was in the works.
Opening statements were expected on Monday, but the Delaware Supreme Court unexpectedly said that “trial” would begin on Tuesday.
The judge’s statement does not provide an explanation for the delay.
“The court has decided to proceed with the commencement of the trial, including jury selection, until Tuesday, April 18, 2023, 9:00 am. I will make such an announcement tomorrow at 9:00 am in Courtroom 7E,” using the legal term “continue,” which means a delay or delay.
But the announcement comes after The Wall Street Journal, owned by Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch, reported Sunday night that “Fox has made a belated push to settle out of court,” citing people familiar with the matter.
Neither Dominion nor Fox commented on Sunday’s delay.
“Throughout this case, Dominion seemed highly motivated to play it out on the public stage and correct the wider history of election deniability,” said Ronnell Anderson Jones, a First Amendment expert and professor of law at the University of Utah.
“But Fox may be much more interested in getting closer to what the Dominion may be asking for after a very tough week of pre-trial hearings last week and especially in light of recent revelations from a former employee who is now in the Dominion camp. ”
Jones was referring to Abby Grossberg, a former news producer who claimed she was intimidated by Fox lawyers into defending the network and its on-air personalities in her testimony in the Dominion case. She escalated her own lawsuit against the company, adding CEO Suzanne Scott as a defendant and accusing the company’s lawyers of deleting messages from her phone.
Dominion sued Fox News for defamation, seeking $1.6 billion in damages. It says the right-wing network defamed it when Fox hosts and guests claimed in 2020 that their voting systems illegally rigged the election against Donald Trump.
Fox News has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, has claimed to be “proud” of its coverage of the 2020 election, and has argued that the Dominion lawsuit poses a threat to the First Amendment. The network says the $1.6 billion figure is grossly inflated.
As the case progressed through the court system and more revealing material surfaced, legal experts expressed surprise that Fox did not settle the case. A settlement would have prevented an agonizing and embarrassing few weeks for Fox.
Some of the company’s senior executives and high-profile anchors are scheduled to testify during a trial about the election lies promoted by the network after the 2020 election.
If a panel of jurors side with Dominion during the trial and award an amount of money close to what the voting technology company is asking for, it would be one of the biggest defamation defeats ever suffered by the American media.
Whether or not the case goes to trial, the evidence from this case has damaged Fox News’ credibility and reputation by exposing the network as a dishonest organization seeking to impose lies on its audience.
Private text messages and emails released as part of the case have already shown that the top leadership of the right-wing talk network did not believe the conspiracy theories that were being aired and circulated to viewers.
High-profile hosts like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity knew that Trump’s election lies weren’t true, reports showed, but they relied on election fraud theories on their shows anyway.
— John Passantino of CNN provided the coverage.