Dominion Voting Systems’ high-stakes defamation trial against Fox News, which was supposed to begin Monday, was abruptly delayed on Sunday evening, in a stunning eleventh-hour twist that threw into question whether a settlement was in the works.
Opening statements were expected on Monday, but the Delaware Superior Court said in a surprise announcement that “the start of the trial” will now be Tuesday.
The judge’s statement did not provide an explanation for the delay.
“The Court has decided to continue the start of the trial, including jury selection, until Tuesday, April 18, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. I will make such an announcement tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. in Courtroom 7E,” using the legal term “continue,” which means delay or postpone.
But the announcement came as The Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch, reported on Sunday evening that “Fox has made a late push to settle the dispute out of court,” citing people familiar with the matter.
Neither Dominion nor Fox commented on the delay Sunday.
“Dominion has seemed quite motivated, throughout this case, to play it out on a public stage and correct the larger record on election denialism,” said RonNell Anderson Jones, a First Amendment expert and professor of law at the University of Utah.
“But Fox may be far more incentivized to move closer to whatever Dominion might be asking, after a very rough week of pretrial hearings last week and, especially, in light of the recent revelations from the ex-employee who is now in Dominion’s camp.”
Jones was referring to Abby Grossberg, a former producer for the news outlet who claimed Fox lawyers bullied her into protecting the network and its on-air personalities in her deposition for the Dominion case. She has escalated her own lawsuit against the company, adding CEO Suzanne Scott as defendant and accusing the company’s lawyers of deleting messages from her phone.
Massive damages sought
Dominion had sued Fox News for defamation seeking damages of $1.6 billion. It says it was defamed by the right-wing network when Fox hosts and guests claimed in 2020 that its voting systems illegally rigged the election against Donald Trump.
Fox News has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, maintained it is “proud” of its 2020 election coverage, and argued that Dominion’s lawsuit represents a threat to the First Amendment. The network says the $1.6 billion figure is wildly inflated.
As the case has progressed through the court system and more damning material has emerged, legal experts have expressed surprise that Fox has not settled the case. A settlement would avert what promises to be an excruciating and embarrassing several weeks for Fox.
Some of the company’s highest-ranking executives and highest-profile hosts are scheduled to otherwise testify during the trial about the election lies promoted by the network in the wake of the 2020 election.
If a panel of jurors side with Dominion during trial and award a sum of money near what the voting technology company is asking for, it would represent one of the largest defamation defeats ever for a US media outlet.
Regardless of whether a case goes to trial, the evidence that has emerged from the case has battered Fox News’ credibility and reputation, exposing the network as a dishonest organization willing to push lies to its audience.
Private text messages and emails released as part of the case have already revealed top personnel at the right-wing talk network didn’t believe the conspiracy theories that were being put on the air and spread to viewers.
Prominent hosts such as Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity knew Trump’s lies about the election were detached from reality, the communications revealed, but they leaned into the voter fraud theories anyway on their shows.
— CNN’s Jon Passantino contributed reporting