Dominion may discuss common threats in the Fox defamation suit

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) – The judge leading a voting machine company’s defamation lawsuit against Fox News for spreading false allegations of fraud in the 2020 presidential election said Tuesday he would allow the jury to hear some testimony about threats against the company, but only up to a point.

Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis granted a motion by Fox to bar any reference to specific threats or harassment against Dominion Voting Systems. But he said he would allow Dominion to speak out broadly about threats it has received to show how it has been damaged by the Fox broadcasts.

Megan Meier, an attorney for Dominion, argued unsuccessfully that the jury should be allowed to hear details of threats the company has received.

“It has decimated Dominion’s ability to attract and retain employees because the company is under siege,” she said.

Meier noted that local election officials across the US who are responsible for deciding whether to contract with Dominion have also been harassed and threatened, part of a pattern of attacks on poll workers since the 2020 election.

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Davis said he didn’t want the jury to be biased towards Fox over threats from people unconnected to the network.

In another ruling, the judge denied a Dominion motion to largely bar Fox from using “unreserved and vague references” to the First Amendment and free speech to defend against the defamation lawsuits. Dominion, which is seeking $1.6 billion in damages, argued that any reference to the constitutional right to free speech must be in the context of the legal standard for defamation.

The judge acknowledged that not all testimony is protected under the First Amendment and said the issue must be addressed on a witness-to-witness basis.

The motions are among several put forward by both sides to keep certain evidence, issues and questions out of the trial, which is scheduled to begin Thursday’s jury selection. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday.

In another ruling, the judge denied a motion by Fox seeking to bar any reference in court to matters involving the Murdoch family, which is owned by Fox Corp., Fox News’ parent company. But Davis said he doesn’t see how the testimony of James Murdoch, who Dominion has pointed to as a potential witness, is relevant to the case because he wasn’t with the company in the months following the election.

James Murdoch is the younger son of media mogul and Fox Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch and the brother of Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch, both of whom are expected to testify. James Murdoch is the former CEO of 21st Century Fox and a former director of News Corp., another major media company with ties to the Murdoch family.

Even before the trial begins, footage released as part of the lawsuit has thrown an uncomfortable spotlight on the network.

Information obtained by Dominion has shown that some network presenters behind the camera had doubts about allegations of voter fraud, but still allowed program guests to repeat them after the 2020 election. The case has also prompted an investigation into various emails and text messages exchanged by Fox News CEO Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan Murdoch and Suzanne Scott about election coverage and former President Donald Trump’s claims that he had been swindled .

They revealed a chorus of voices, from Rupert Murdoch and the network’s top presenters to producers and publicists, who internally dismissed the vote-stealing conspiracy claims as insane despite the network repeatedly providing them with a platform. Internal communications also showed that the big players at Fox at the time were deeply concerned about retaining pro-Trump viewers.

Davis himself wrote last month that it was “CRYSTAL clear” that the allegations of stolen elections were untrue. That came in a summary judgment in which the judge said a jury must decide whether Fox News actually acted maliciously in publishing the statements. The jury must also decide whether Fox Corp. was directly involved in broadcasting the Statements and whether Dominion is entitled to any damages.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the judge said his use of capital letters in last month’s ruling was simply to ensure lawyers on both sides understood that there would be no real question of fact at trial that the allegations were false.

“I wasn’t trying to send a message to America or anything,” he said.

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