Alex Jones, the right-wing provocateur who once claimed the Sandy Hook mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., was as “phony as a three-dollar bill,” has lost a series of Texas lawsuits by default.
According to court papers obtained by Law&Crime but first reported by the online news outlet HuffPost, Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of the 459th District Court in Travis County, Texas, signed two orders on Monday, Sept. 27 which granted motions for default judgment filed by plaintiffs Neil Heslin (in one case) and Leonard Ponzer and Veronique de la Rosa (in another case) against Alex Jones, InfoWars LLC, and Free Speech Systems, LLC. The plaintiffs are parents of Sandy Hook victims.
Default judgment orders occur when, in essence, a party to litigation simply fails to respond as ordered.
The legal blog Above the Law cheekily referred to the situation in a headline: “Alex Jones Gets The Death Penalty Sanctions.” Default judgments are sometimes known colloquially as “death penalty sanctions.”
The documents in Heslin’s case say the court expedited discovery regarding an IIED (intentional infliction of emotional distress) claim as far back as Oct. 18, 2019. However, the “Defendants failed to comply with the order in numerous respects.” The court ordered sanctions but allowed the defendants to attempt to provide the discovery materials requested and ordered as of December 2019.
The defendants “failed to supplement any discovery” in 2019 and in 2021, the order then points out. When Jones, et al. provided some documents in August 2021, they weren’t enough — “it is clear these documents do not satisfy Defendants’ outstanding obligations.”
The order bemoans the defendants’ failure to “make efforts for a corporate representative deposition to cure their non-appearance.”
“Nor have the Defendants fully and fairly responded to the discovery requests at this time,” the order says.
— Media Matters (@mmfa) April 17, 2018
The judge scolded the defendants — that’s Jones and his associated companies — for “flagrant bad faith and callous disregard for the responsibilities of discovery.” The judge went on to accuse the defendants of a “greatly aggravated . . . pattern of discovery abuse throughout the other Sandy Hook cases pending before” her.
What follows is a laundry list of violations spanning several cases in multiple states.
“In sum, Defendants have engaged in pervasive and persistent obstruction of the discovery process in general,” the judge continued. “The Court is also faced with Defendants’ refusal to produce critical evidence. Defendants have shown a deliberate, contumacious, and unwarranted disregard for this Court’s authority. Based on the record before it, this Court finds that Defendants’ egregious discovery abuse justifies a presumption that its defenses lack merit.”
The judge continued by declaring “that an escalating series of judicial admonishments, monetary penalties, and non-dispositive sanctions have all been ineffective at deterring the abuse.” And she chided the defendants for a “general bad faith approach to litigation” while noting “Mr. Jones’ public threats” and “professed belief that these proceedings are ‘show trials.'”
The judge was at least kind enough to offer a bit of an escape hatch from blame for the defendants’ voluminous list of attorneys.
“It is clear to the Court that discovery misconduct is properly attributable to the client and not the attorney, especially since Defendants have been represented by seven attorneys over the course of the suit,” the judge wrote. “Regardless of the attorney, Defendants’ discovery abuses remained consistent.”
With that, the judge ordered a default judgment against Jones and his associated companies and in favor of the plaintiff. The judge also ordered the defendants to “pay reasonable attorney’s fees in connection with” the plaintiff’s request for a default judgment.
The judge had similar things to say in the second case. There, she noted that the defendants “never answered” discovery requests initially lodged on May 29, 2018. The judge went on to pillory the defendants for “unreasonably and vexatiously fail[ing] to comply with their discovery duties.”
Other portions of the second order are substantially similar to the first.
Parents whose children died in the Sandy Hook school attack sued Jones. Mark D. Bankston, an attorney who represents several of the plaintiff parents, told the New York Times that though the judge’s order settles the legal question of the defendants’ legal liability, a trial is now scheduled March 28 to determine the amount of damages.
Several Sandy Hook parents, including the plaintiffs in these actions, sued Jones for defamation in Texas courts. Jones attempted to convince the an appellate court in Texas that free speech principles should result in the cases being thrown out of court. The Court of Appeals disagreed, the Times noted.
The trial court’s entry of a default in these cases is stunning. It takes no account of the tens of thousands of documents produced by the defendants, the hours spent sitting for depositions and the various sworn statements filed in these cases.
What’s more, these cases are currently before the United States Supreme Court where we have asked for review of the Texas Supreme Court’s denial of motions to dismiss.
We are distressed by what we regard as a blatant abuse of discretion by the trial court. We are determined to see that these cases are heard on the merits.
Nothing less than the fundamental right to speak freely is at stake in these cases. It is not overstatement to say the first amendment was crucified today.
The New York Times noted that Jones eventually issued a broadcast apology to the various Sandy Hook families, and HuffPost noted that he “has now claimed he no longer believes the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax.”
“My opinions had been wrong,” Jones said in a deposition. “But they were never wrong consciously to hurt people.”
Read the documents below:
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