A Connecticut judge has ruled in favor of several surviving family members of students killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School who sued conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for defamation. They claimed Jones spread lies that the mass shooting that led to their children’s’ deaths was a hoax.
Twenty-six people, including 20 children, died in the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
The Austin-based Jones has spread baseless lies about the massacre on his Infowars program.
Zack Murdock is a criminal justice reporter for Connecticut’s Hartford Courant. He spoke to Texas Standard about the lawsuit. Listen to the interview with Murdock in the audio player above or read the transcript below to learn more about how the judge’s ruling is one of the most serious sanctions when it comes to civil lawsuits.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Texas Standard: The decision in Connecticut this week was one of at least two lawsuits against Jones, including one brought against him by Sandy Hook families in a Texas court, is that right?
Zack Murdock: That’s right, yes.
The ruling by the judge in Connecticut was noteworthy because it was a “default” against Jones. Could you tell us what that means and how that differs from a more standard ruling?
This is essentially the most serious sanction that judges in these civil trials can issue against a defendant in this case. And it follows a similar ruling from the judge down in Texas dealing with the similar defamation lawsuits there. Essentially, what it means is that the judge found Alex Jones and his attorneys have presented what she essentially calls a pattern of bad faith in the discovery process in turning over records that they were supposed to issue regarding his finances of these companies, regarding the web analytics related to these companies and even a lot of issues related to the actual depositions they’ve been taking over the course of the last few months and years in these cases.
And the judge found, because they have acted in deliberate ways to obstruct this process over the course of several years, she will not even give them an opportunity to defend themselves at a trial. She issues this default, and it’s going to send the case directly to a jury, essentially saying the Sandy Hook families have proven their case before even having to present a case in trial, and they’ll send it to a jury to be able to award damages to these families based on the extent of the harm they can prove [that] these horrible conspiracy theories have have given them over the past few years.
Jones’ attorneys were not forthcoming to the satisfaction of the judge, at least, when it came to turning over financial data. What companies are are involved here?
Does Jones have the opportunity to appeal this decision?
At this point, we don’t yet know exactly what Jones’s team of attorneys plan to do. But there are several other outstanding issues with this case. To begin with, there’s a lot about having to do with the selling of records in the Connecticut case. It’s our understanding. They also intend to challenge in our Connecticut Supreme Court – whether Judge Bellis actually should have been able to oversee this case at all – and so we don’t yet know exactly what the plan is, but they have shown over the course of last several years that this team is obviously very eager to appeal in any and every creative way they can. So we’re still waiting on word on exactly what that will look like, but I don’t think it would be a surprise to see that they do try to appeal it somehow.
At this point, does the judge now go into assessing damages? How does it move forward from here?
In this case, they still have quite a bit of depositions and actual discovery work to continue to try to do in the case. And we have a civil trial before a jury scheduled for late next year. Now that she’s issued this default ruling, this will go straight to a jury, so the jury will ultimately hear from the families about the extent of the harm these theories Jones espoused on his show did to them over the course of all these years, and it’ll be up to a jury to decide exactly what the damages will be.
We just don’t yet know exactly what that schedule looks like since this just happened and there are quite a few other pieces still left to the puzzle before we get to that stage, including a deposition of Alex Jones himself, which is actually scheduled to happen here on Dec. 14, which will be the ninth anniversary of the tragedy.