In what’s playing out like an extended preview to the $1.6 billion First Amendment prize fight between Dominion Voting Systems and Fox News, both sides threw opening punches Tuesday in a Delaware court, where a judge is hearing summary arguments and other matters ahead of next month’s scheduled trial.
Dominion Voting systems opened this round, arguing before Judge Eric Davis that Fox News made a “household name” out of Sidney Powell, let hosts “run wild” and developed what the judge called a “Lou Dobbs problem.” Fox countered in the afternoon, arguing that a “reasonable” viewer could easily discern that the network was reporting on allegations and newsmakers’ theories.
Both sides have asked Davis to rule summarily in their favor, a routine stop for any civil trial that rarely works. But Fox and Dominion each put significant resources into their summary arguments and supporting documents, which have been widely picked over and scrutinized.
By the time the lawyers assembled Tuesday for their first live arguments before Davis, many details had already become familiar, as each side released troves of sworn deposition testimony, text messages, emails and other discovery-phase records this month – most of them rather embarrassing to Fox News. Davis was not expected to rule on the motions for summary judgment during the pre-trial hearing spanning Tuesday and Wednesday.
However, Davis could rule this week on whether certain redacted material in those evidentiary depositions should be revealed, which could bring another wave (or trickle) of bombshell revelations. Those arguments and other minor pretrial matters were expected to be resolved before the April 17 start date.
Dominion is asking for $1.6 billion in damages – significant, but not a potential death-blow for the crown jewel of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire – for what it says are defamatory statements about its voting machines in multiple reports, guest segments and host commentary immediately following the 2020 election. Defamation cases hinge on “actual malice,” proof that the defendant intended harm – and Dominion has been pushing hard on that front in it pretrial efforts.
Fox has maintained it was merely doing the news, and was protected by its framing of even the wildest election conspiracy theories as allegations and speculation. Fox’s lawyers also argued Tuesday that there were, and still are, legitimate questions about security around Dominion machines.
Dominion’s receipts include 20 on-air instances of what it says are defamation – a notable number of them featuring Lou Dobbs. “Lou Dobbs Tonight” was an engine of the stolen-election narrative, and though Dobbs was fired abruptly after Joe Biden’s win was certified, depositions revealed that Fox brass had been looking to move him out up to a year before.
“This seems to be a Lou Dobbs problem,” Davis commented as Fox attorneys were going through the instances one by one.
The pre-trial hearing was expected to resume Wednesday.