(Bloomberg) -- Dominion Voting Systems remains “under siege” from threats spawned by 2020 election-conspiracy theories propounded by Fox News TV hosts and guests, a lawyer for Dominion told a judge.
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For more than two years, a deluge of threats has made it nearly impossible for the company to hire and retain workers, Dominion attorney Megan Meier said Tuesday at a pre-trial hearing. She said the threats are tied to false statements by Fox personalities who claimed Dominion engineered its machines to steal votes from ex-President Donald Trump.
Dominion has sued Fox for $1.6 billion in damages, claiming defamation because the network aired bogus claims it rigged the presidential election to benefit Democratic candidate Joe Biden. The case is set for trial in Delaware this month.
“The impact of these threats cannot be overstated,” Meier told Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis. The threats aren’t just against Dominion employees, she said. State officials who consider buying the company’s voting machines also are targeted, Meier said.
“I take every threat seriously,” said Davis, who indicated he’d also received some threats that he’d shared with lawyers for both sides. The judge said court officials are taking steps to protect witnesses who travel to Wilmington to testify in the case and have stepped up security at the courthouse.
Fox lawyers objected to a request by Dominion to allow jurors to hear the specifics of the threats, saying the details would unfairly prejudice the panel. In court filings, the network described the threats as “horrific and absolutely inexcusable.” But Fox officials warned revealing the gory details is likely to “provoke a desire to punish Fox for the actions of unrelated third parties.”
Davis agreed, saying Dominion could only have witnesses talk about the threats in general to support the company’s claim it’s been forced to spend extra money on security because of Fox’s bogus election claims. “I don’t want the jury prejudiced by general loonieness,” he added.
Dominion’s lawyers contend key players at Fox never believed the fraud allegations, but sat on their hands while lawyer Sidney Powell and other Trump allies went on air to accuse Dominion of conspiring with Democrats and foreign governments to rig the vote. Fox counters that the network didn’t defame Dominion by reporting on issues tied to a story of national importance and that its actions are protected free speech under the First Amendment.
But in a written ruling last month, Davis said the network isn’t automatically protected from spreading false facts. “The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that is CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” the judge wrote March 31.
The Fox reports falsely accused Dominion of rigging its software to flip votes away from Trump and paying government officials to use its machines — on top of claiming it was founded in Venezuela “to rig elections for dictator Hugo Chavez,” Davis said in his ruling. Those claims were defamatory because they were false and struck at the integrity of Dominion’s business, he said.
The voting-machine maker also sought to introduce evidence Fox’s false claims help prompt the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol. Davis shot that down, as well, saying it was too prejudicial.
The judge is going through a list of pre-trial issues to set the stage for the six-week trial, which starts Thursday with jury selection. Opening arguments are scheduled for April 17. Fox is incorporated in Delaware — the corporate home of more than 60% of Fortune 500 companies.
Davis will allow Dominion to present evidence of Fox’s financial wherewithal during the trial, including details about the salaries of high-profile hosts such as Tucker Carlson and Maria Bartiromo. Dominion is arguing the network’s employees had a financial interest in publicly lining up behind the conspiracy theories to make their bosses happy. Internal emails, however, showed Carlson had serious doubts about the veracity of the theories.
Meanwhile, a Fox Corp. investor sued Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan on Tuesday, blaming them for allowing Fox News to spread lies about the election and prompting the defamation case. Delaware’s Chancery Court suit accuses the Murdochs and three other Fox directors of “knowingly” hosts and guests to spread Trump’s false stolen-election claims.
The defamation case is Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News Network LLC, N21C-03-257 EMD, Delaware Superior Court (Wilmington). The investor case is Robert Schwartz v. Rupert Murdoch, 2023-0418, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington)
--With assistance from Michael Leonard.
(Updates with investor suit in 12th paragraph)
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