A Delaware judge has ruled that Dominion Voting’s $1.6bn defamation lawsuit against Fox Corp. and its media outlets – alleging false claims they spread about the 2020 US presidential election – could proceed to trial in April. Dominion claims that Fox repeatedly suggested that their voting machines had been rigged during the 2020 presidential election that saw Joe Biden defeat Donald Trump. The former president has claimed that he won the election and accused Democrats of rigging the election without evidence.
In his court papers, Judge Eric Davis of the Delaware Superior Court rejected Fox’s assertions that because of First Amendment protection, the case should have bypassed a trial. Davis granted some of Dominion’s motions but declined to accept its argument that Fox and its hosts had acted maliciously in airing false claims. Though a trove of evidence seeing Fox’s top hosts and parent executives’ testimony in the case being sceptical of the election fraud claims being made on air was noted recently, Davis said that: “The statements also seem to charge Dominion with the serious crime of election fraud. Accusations of criminal activity, even in the form of opinion, are not constitutionally protected.”
While Davis allowed Dominion’s arguments including defamation to proceed, he did not issue judgement on actual malice yet. A plaintiff in a defamation case has to prove that the person or organization they’re suing knowingly made false statements causing harm and acted with “actual malice,” meaning the speaker knew or should have known that their statements were untrue. Dominion’s internal email correspondence and text messages showed how sceptical the top hosts and executives at Fox were of the claims being made on air, and they argued that the media company’s case was about allegations’ factual reporting, not whether the allegations were true or not. However, when hearing Dominion’s motion, Davis said there was “no clear and convincing evidence of actual malice.”
The case seeks a $1.6bn payout from Fox to Dominion and could last for several weeks if it goes to trial in April. Dominion wants the case to involve questioning of top Fox hosts: Tucker Carlson, Jeanine Pirro, Maria Bartiromo, and Sean Hannity along with former hosts including Lou Dobbs, along with Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott. Rupert Murdoch and Lachlan Murdoch, Fox’s parent executives, may also feature in the trial. Furthermore, Abby Grossberg, a former Fox News producer, who worked on the shows of Bartiromo and Carlson, was added to the witness list. Grossberg is also pursuing a lawsuit against Fox, claiming that she was coerced into giving misleading testimony as part of the Dominion lawsuit.