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Alex Jones Loses Sandy Hook Defamation Suits With Rare 'Death Penalty Sanction' [Updated]

Gizmodo logo Gizmodo 10/1/2021 Tom McKay
Alex Jones speaking outside the Capitol after Donald Trump supporters assaulted police and broke into the building en masse on Jan. 6, 2021. © Photo: Jon Cherry (Getty Images) Alex Jones speaking outside the Capitol after Donald Trump supporters assaulted police and broke into the building en masse on Jan. 6, 2021.

Alex Jones, the bloviating founder of conspiracy website InfoWars, has lost three defamation lawsuits over his hoax claims about the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school mass shooting—having bungled the case so hard the judge ruled he must pay up by default.

Jones responded to the massacre, which claimed a total of 28 lives including 20 children, by claiming it was some sort of false flag operation in which no one actually died and that victims and their relatives were actually actors enlisted in a nefarious conspiracy. InfoWars viewers responded by launching relentless harassment campaigns against relatives of those killed. At least nine families who lost loved ones in the massacre have since filed suit, claiming Jones deliberately defamed them, as have other individuals unfortunate enough to attract his malign attention.

Jones has already been sanctioned in one such case in Connecticut. On Monday, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Texas’s 459th District Court issued default judgments against Jones in three additional defamation suits, finding his lawyers “intentionally disobeyed” court orders and exhibited “flagrant bad faith and callous disregard” in the discovery process. They can be read on Scribd here, here, and here.

The default judgments in the Texas cases, first reported by the Huffington Post, effectively mean that the court has decided Jones, InfoWars, and its parent company Free Speech Systems have no defense and are liable for all damages. Gamble wrote in filings that the defendants had refused to turn over internal documents related to the case as ordered by the court and that “an escalating series of judicial admonishments, monetary penalties, and non-dispositive sanctions have all been ineffective at deterring the abuse.”

In other words, whatever had happened behind the scenes at InfoWars was so bad that Jones would rather take the worst possible outcome in the defamation suits than release documentation. As the Huffington Post noted, default judgments are quite rare and in Texas legal slang they are referred to as a “death penalty sanction” because they put the sanctioned party’s case out of its misery.

The actual damages that Jones and InfoWars will have to shell out, barring the unlikely event of a successful appeal, will be determined by a jury at a later date but will no doubt be considerable.

The plaintiffs in the three suits, Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa; Scarlett Lewis, and Neil Heslin, were represented by the legal firm Farrar & Ball. Jones and InfoWars managed to burn through six separate defense attorneys throughout his legal defense and is now on his seventh, Brad Reeves.

“Mr. Jones was given ample opportunity to take these lawsuits seriously and obey the rule of law,” Mark Bankston, a Farrar & Ball attorney, told Gizmodo via email. “He chose not to do so, and now he will face the consequences for that decision.”

“Never before have we seen a defendant so committed to thumbing his nose at the Court. By disrespecting judicial authority, Mr. Jones was playing was with fire, and now he has been burnt,” Bankston added. “In these lawsuits, Mr. Jones refused to comply with discovery orders on five successive occasions, produced child pornography in discovery, threatened the lives of plaintiffs’ counsel, repeatedly refused to provide testimony, provided false and evasive discovery responses, submitted a fraudulent affidavit, and has continuously introduced chaos and absurdity into the proceedings.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have said Jones’s attorneys have displayed continual contempt for the court and went out of their way to drag out proceedings in as unpleasant a fashion as possible. When filing for sanctions such as the default judgment and contempt of court at the start of September, Farrar & Ball attorneys noted that Jones failed to provide even the most basic evidence about the case as required under discovery and refused to answer questions during a sworn deposition. Reeves handed over thousands of pages of documents just days before the hearing on the motions, as well as only filed a written response the day before, which Gamble agreed appeared to be a calculated attempt to prevent the plaintiffs from replying.

“We learn about death penalty sanctions in law school as more of a theory, and it’s almost unheard of to have them handed down in a case like this,” Bill Ogden, one of Bankston’s colleagues, told the Huffington Post via email. “However, the Sandy Hook cases are unique. It is extremely rare that a party (Alex Jones and Infowars) is ordered by the Court to comply with discovery, is sanctioned for failing to obey with the Court’s multiple Order(s), and then continues to blatantly disregard the Court’s authority by continuously refusing to comply.”

In one of the rulings, Gamble wrote:

The Court finds that Defendants’ failure to comply... is greatly aggravated by [their] consistent pattern of discovery abuse throughout similar cases pending before this Court. The Court finds that Defendants’ discovery conduct in this case is the result of flagrant bad faith and callous disregard for the responsibilities of discovery under the rules.

Reeves, Jones’s attorney, told the Huffington Post in a phone interview that he has yet to catch up on the whole thing.

“I haven’t really analyzed [the rulings], so I don’t know exactly what is going to happen,” Reeves told the site.

This isn’t the end of Jones’s legal woes. He is still facing numerous other civil lawsuits. In February, the Washington Post reported the Justice Department and FBI are investigating whether he and other far-right figures like political operative Roger Stone played a role in the failed Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Jones played an organizational role in the lead-up to the rally that preceded the event, as well as addressed crowds of Donald Trump supporters before a mob of them had assaulted police and broke into the building in a last-ditch attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The Post wrote that while the agencies are primarily attempting to understand the process by which the rioters were radicalized, but that it was possible charges such as conspiracy could be filed against anyone the agency determined bore responsibility for the attack. An InfoWars host, Owen Shroyer, was charged in August with disorderly conduct and entering a restricted area of Capitol grounds, both misdemeanors.

Update: 4:30 p.m. ET on 10/1/2021: This article has been updated with additional comment from Mark Bankston, as well as to reflect that the Huffington Post reported on Friday that Judge Gamble issued another default judgment in the case brought by Neil Heslin.

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