Judge doubts Fox News claim Rupert Murdoch shouldn’t testify in court: NPR
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The Delaware judge overseeing a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News on Tuesday did not appear to accept the argument that founder Rupert Murdoch was too infirm to testify at trial next month.
The judge told Fox’s lawyers not to make him “look like an idiot.”
The remarks came at the start of a preliminary hearing when Judge Eric M. Davis noted that he had already received a letter stating that Murdoch, 92, “could not attend” the trial in Delaware because of the COVID.
“I also have people who tell me that he has done things recently that [show] he’s barely crippled,” Davis said, noting that Murdoch had recently announced his engagement to be married for the fifth time and planned to travel between his homes in Los Angeles, Montana, New York and London.
The exchange was the first of several in which the normally impassive Davis warned Fox’s attorneys to “be careful.”
It also foreshadowed a key claim in the widely watched libel case brought by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News: Were top executives, including controlling owner Murdoch, responsible for airing baseless claims of voter fraud at the end of 2020?
Dominion’s attorneys allege the company suffered reputational damage after Fox – from individual hosts through to Suite C – encouraged or deliberately turned a blind eye as false allegations proliferated on the network – including allegations claiming that the voting machine software company engaged in a plot to steal the 2020 election from then-President Donald Trump.
Fox lawyers deny the lawsuit allegations on their face, arguing the network was airing newsworthy allegations made by an inherently newsworthy person — the incumbent president — and his representatives following a stormy election. .
Fox officials said this week that Dominion had sought to limit the network’s First Amendment arguments, pointing to sealed motions that Fox said would bar its attorneys from referring to the news in the network’s defense.
Yet Fox attorneys also specifically push back against Dominion’s claim that guilt could extend to executives and board members of Fox News’ parent company, Fox Corp.
The case, which was filed last year, has so far uncovered thousands of documents that lawyers intend to use as exhibits and has prompted dozens of depositions.
On Tuesday, Fox attorney Matthew Carter highlighted Murdoch’s deposition when responding to Davis’ disbelief of the media mogul’s ability to travel.
Carter said there was a misunderstanding. He said his side had not argued that Murdoch was crippled, but that there was no reason for his testimony at trial given that Murdoch had already undergone seven hours of questioning in the deposition.
In his deposition, Murdoch claimed he knew Trump lost the 2020 election, but some Fox hosts, including Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs, “approved” of the story of a stolen election.
He also acknowledged he had the power to dissuade Fox News executives and stars from giving airtime to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who peddled the lie.
“I could have,” Murdoch said in his deposition. “But I did not do it.”
Ultimately, Davis indicated he had the power to compel Murdoch to appear in court during the trial.
Debate on the publication of e-mails, SMS and legal documents
It remains unclear whether Davis could do the same for officials lower in Fox’s chain of command, including those directly involved in producing specific segments.
Lawyers in Tuesday’s hearing argued over this and other issues, such as the topics that could be covered in testimony, the type of exhibits that could be presented and even the number of days of prior notice. that a witness must receive before testifying.
This last point frustrated the judge, who was described by Delaware attorneys as “Cool Hand Luke” for his behavior.
“You fight more than 24 hours? Davis asked, again in near disbelief.
The hearing then turned to a hotly debated issue of public disclosure of court documents. (Lawyers for NPR and other media organizations dispute the widespread redactions in the documents.)
Dominion lawyers said Fox had shown a tendency to try to shield the documents from the public eye, saying his lawyers had even engaged in what could be “asymmetric warfare” by objecting to their exhibits be used in open court.
The statement again sparked a heated reaction from the judge who asked Fox if they really objected to “every play”. Fox’s attorneys confirmed they did, to which Davis later said, “it’s not a game.”
In response, a Fox lawyer said Dominion created a massive business for their side by including 1,000 more exposures than their side. Fox’s attorneys had objected to everything because they didn’t want to waive their right to object in the future.
“It’s just a matter of volume,” she said.
As the talks continued, Davis told Fox’s attorneys one last time to “be careful.”
Fox attorney Katherine Mowery had argued that the court should redact court documents regarding the network’s fact-checking process that took place in its so-called “Brain Room.”
As was the theme of the day, the judge was skeptical, stating “these were used in my courtroom and I did not seal the courtroom”.
Additionally, he said his upcoming notice of Dominion’s and Fox’s separate motions to rule in their favor before trial will include mentions of the Brain Room.
“I don’t write my opinion.” Davis said.
David Folkenflik contributed to this story.