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Famous right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones got tagged with a nearly $50 million verdict in a Texas defamation case that arose out of lies he told about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. This is just one of his many legal troubles.
We have some thoughts about what Mr. Jones and his lawyers get to look forward to. Let's focus in this post specifically on Jones. Then, we will talk about his lawyer's problems in another post.
Jones and others at Infowars, his company, repeatedly said on-air that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook, which resulted in the deaths of 20 kids and six adults, was an anti-gun hoax. This was a lie. And it generated a bunch of litigation.
One case was in Travis County, Texas. Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, the parents of six-year-old Jesse Lewis, sued Alex Jones, Infowars, and his main company, Free Speech Systems. They claimed that Jones's lie caused his fanatical followers to issue death threats, harass them, and generally ruin their lives.
During the court proceedings, Jones and his lawyers repeatedly violated the court's rules. As punishment for their misconduct, the judge, Maya Guerra Gamble, entered default judgment against Jones on liability, which means she ruled he was legally responsible for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The only issue for trial was how much Jones would have to pay Jesse's parents for the harm he did to them.
The Texas jury said that $4.1 million in compensatory damages and another $45.2 million in punitive damages on their three defamation claims would do the trick. Unfortunately, Texas law caps the amount of punitive damages in a case like theirs at $750,000, so the judge will likely reduce the award. Jones's lawyers say they plan to appeal, of course.
That will keep Jones busy for a while.
But that's not all. A hefty dose of ibuprofen wouldn't be enough to soothe the legal headache Jones has.
If Jones' plan was to draw Judge Gamble's ire, he couldn't have succeeded more. He treated the case as if it were a joke. The judge had to repeatedly remind him that he was testifying in a court, not pontificating on his Infowars show. She had to instruct him at least four times to tell the truth. While the trial was going on, Jones repeatedly disparaged the proceedings in the media as a “show trial," which was bound to irritate the judge.
There's more. Jones' lawyer, F. Andino Reynal, had to apologize after a photograph revealed him giving the plaintiff's lawyer the middle finger following a heated confrontation in court. And in a dramatic Perry Mason moment, the plaintiff's lawyer, Mark Bankston, proved that Jones and his lawyer had lied about the existence of certain texts on Jones' phone (more on that in the next blog post).
The judge has indicated she will entertain a motion for sanctions. A judge has broad discretion to award sanctions to punish a party or an attorney if they disregard the rules or orders of the court. Our guess is that she will order Jones to pay the plaintiffs a significant amount of money and will refer Reynal to the Texas Bar for an ethics investigation. We'll see.
When you testify, you take an oath to tell the truth. If you lie under oath, you can be criminally charged with perjury. In Texas, perjury is a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in the county jail and a fine of $4,000. Aggravated perjury is a third-degree felony, which is punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
As noted, Gamble repeatedly directed Jones to tell the truth during the highly publicized trial. A Texas prosecutor could empanel a grand jury and indict Jones for perjury. Jones may face jail time for lying in court.
In addition to the Travis County case, Jones faces a separate defamation case in Texas and another in Waterbury, Connecticut. In the Connecticut case, the judge is considering sanctions against Jones' attorneys, including Reynal, for disclosing highly confidential medical records to unauthorized persons in violation of state and federal laws.
These cases have been put on hold for the time being while Jones deals with another legal problem: bankruptcy.
Midway through the Texas trial, Alex Jones' main company, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy under a subchapter designated for small businesses. It reported $79 million in liabilities, $54 million of which is debt owed to a company called PQHR Holdings (Jones is the director of that company). The Sandy Hook families contend that this filing is Jones' attempt to divert millions in assets and avoid the type of judicial oversight you would see in a normal bankruptcy case.
We're not sure what Jones is really up to. The Sandy Hook families may be right — maybe he is trying to hide his assets. Whatever Jones' plans may be, we will see if he manages to avoid having to pay the plaintiffs what the jury says he owes them.
If this were not enough, Mark Bankston, the plaintiffs' attorney, told Judge Gamble that he had been approached by, among others, the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack. They asked for copies of any texts on Jones' phone that may relate to the Capitol Riot. Jones happened to be there with a bullhorn encouraging the rioters to protest "peacefully." Gamble told Bankston that if he wanted to turn Jones' texts over to the committee, she wouldn't stand in his way.
Media organizations are reporting that Bankston has, in fact, given the texts to the committee. We don't know what they say, so it's hard to speculate about what the consequences of that will be. But we do know that the committee hasn't been shy about referring people involved in the Capitol Riot to the U.S. Department of Justice for potential prosecution.
Let's just say that Jones is now squarely in the eye of the federal government. That can't be good for him.
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