A Connecticut judge will sanction the defense attorneys for Alex Jones in the long-running civil lawsuit brought against the inflammatory online conspiracy theorist by the parents of children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre.
Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis announced Wednesday morning that she will impose new sanctions on Jones’ attorneys for violating a court order when they included information from a confidential deposition this summer in a motion seeking to question former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, suggesting Clinton had arranged the families’ lawsuit as a vendetta against Jones after her 2016 loss to former President Donald Trump.
Bellis also will consider additional sanctions over what she called “highly inappropriate” and “abusive questioning” by Jones defense attorney Jay Wolman during a September deposition, during which he demanded the man being deposed search email records on his phone even though the subpoena issued by the court did not require it, she said.
The Connecticut cases are continuing this fall after a Texas judge’s decision late last month to hold Jones responsible for all damages in three similar defamation lawsuits filed there after Jones repeatedly ignored orders to turn over records to the families’ lawyers. Those cases now will be turned over to juries to decide how much in damages Jones must pay to the families while a jury trial in the Connecticut case is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2022.
Frustrated by Wolman’s responses to her pointed questions during the two-hour virtual hearing Wednesday, Bellis lambasted the defense attorney and warned Wolman and his co-counselors to be more cautious before “more damage is done,” she said.
“I think the arguments were baseless and I think the behavior really is unconscionable,” Bellis told Wolman. “There is no confusion, there can be no confusion, about a very straightforward protective order that (defense) counsel themselves filed and asked the court to approve. And I am concerned about a chilling effect on the testimony of other witnesses.”
The exact sanctions over the violation of the protective order will be determined at a hearing in the next few weeks.
Bellis also said she is considering whether to sanction Wolman herself over his September deposition conduct or refer the matter to the state’s Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, which investigates complaints against attorneys. After issuing three warnings to Wolman in May and June, she said Wednesday she is “leaning toward” issuing a sanction herself, but that she will decide at a hearing scheduled for early November.
The sanctions are the latest turn in the highly contentious legal battle against Jones by parents of several children killed in the horrific 2012 shooting that left 20 first graders and six educators dead. The families sued Jones for defamation after he repeatedly portrayed the Newtown massacre as a hoax on his online Infowars show, ostensibly designed to prompt new gun control measures.
Jones has claimed his inflammatory monologues were protected by the First Amendment, even though he now admits he was wrong and has since conceded in court that the shooting did occur.
The Texas judge who ruled against Jones this month noted that he and his Infowars companies have engaged in similar, obstructive behavior in the Connecticut lawsuits, and Bellis has raised similar concerns throughout this year.
Depositions finally began in the Connecticut cases this summer. Attorney Chris Mattei, a lawyer representing the Sandy Hook families, revealed during the hearing Wednesday that Jones’ attorneys’ motion to depose Clinton came in the middle of that first deposition with Erica Lafferty. The filing contends Clinton orchestrated the Sandy Hook families’ lawsuit as a “vendetta to silence Mr. Jones” after her loss to Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
The filing includes two sentences that make reference to an unnamed plaintiff and witness — information available only from the deposition being taken that day that was supposed to be entirely confidential, Mattei contended. Wolman countered that the information did not name Lafferty directly and therefore did not violate the confidentiality rules as he understood them.
Bellis dismissed that argument out of hand, noting the protective order outlining those confidentiality rules was drafted by the defense team and chastised Wolman for not directly answering her questions. She agreed with Mattei’s contention that the filing could have a “chilling” effect on the testimony other witnesses may give during their depositions.
“It was designed to set a tone for their conduct for the rest of the case, and that’s what they did,” Mattei told Bellis. “These unconvincing pleas that somehow the protective order was unclear. ... It is, I think, inexcusable that our clients would give information to Mr. Jones and his attorneys when they have shown such disregard for the protective order.”
Bellis also lambasted Wolman for his conduct during a Sept. 17 deposition of Robert Jacobson, a former video producer for one of the companies that worked with Jones’ show who did not have an attorney representing him at the deposition.
Although Jacobson told Wolman he did not have any documents responsive to Wolman’s subpoena, Wolman “pressured and barraged” Jacobson to search his email accounts on his mobile phone for the phrase “Sandy Hook,” Bellis said. Even after the attorneys arranged to speak with Bellis about the dispute during the deposition, Wolman continued to “harass” Jacobson and may have misled him about whether he was required to search his phone — potentially violating several attorney conduct rules, she said.
“Had the court had any inkling of the abusive questioning that was being conducted by attorney Wolman, I would have immediately — immediately — stopped the deposition. And if I was going to permit any further questioning of that witness, it would have been done in open court,” Bellis said.
Bellis sanctioned Jones in 2019 for not turning over documents and unleashing a 20-minute, profanity-laced tirade about the case on his show, at one point referring to Mattei and a $1 million bounty “to put your head on a pike.” The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld Bellis’ sanction, which barred Jones from filing a motion to dismiss the case, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Jones’ appeal of the decision this spring.
“Because of the concerns I’ve voiced and because of what I’ve heard from counsel for the Alex Jones defendants ... I am very concerned that the defendants in this case, having expressed confusion of a very clear protective order, that there are going to be problems in the future,” Bellis said in concluding the hearing Wednesday. “I strongly suggest, for your own interests, as well as your client’s interests, that you are on the side of caution and seek advice from the court if you have any concerns about how to proceed ... so that you don’t get yourselves in a situation where more damage is done.”
Zach Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.