WATERBURY, Conn. (CN) — Jury selection in the Connecticut defamation case against radio personality and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones ground to a halt Tuesday afternoon after the attorney representing Jones filed a notice that the case was removed to federal bankruptcy court.
Twenty-two potential jurors had filed into the third-floor courtroom in the Waterbury Superior Court on the first day of jury selection, filling the jury box and flowing into the first honey-colored wooden bench of the gallery.
Together, they listened as Judge Barbara Bellis described the case: Following the Sandy Hook shooting, Jones falsely claimed on his radio show that the families involved were crisis actors and the 2012 massacre a hoax.
In 2018, a group of parents of children killed in the shooting, an FBI agent and the family members of some of the educators filed a defamation suit against Jones alleging his statements caused them years of harassment.
Under Connecticut's individual sequestered jury selection process, jurors were brought into the courtroom one-by-one to sit in the witness box for questioning, a process that was expected to take weeks.
But around 1 p.m., Bellis announced Jones’ attorney Norman Pattis had filed a removal to federal bankruptcy court.
“So we need to suspend everything,” she said.
The development comes after Jones’ company, Free Speech Systems, which was named in the suit, filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas last week.
Bellis said if the case is remanded back to her court, attorneys would have 24-hour notice that jury selection would resume. Before learning of the removal, the judge had said the jury – which is supposed to be a panel of six with four alternates – was set to begin hearing evidence Sept. 6 in a trial expected to run three to four weeks that would determine the amount of damages Jones owed the families.
In November, Bellis sanctioned Jones, saying that because the Infowars host failed to cooperate in discovery by refusing to hand over, for instance, data on how social media posts performed, she was handing down punishment in the form of a default judgement.
Bellis began the first day of jury selection by asking the attorneys sitting before her if the bankruptcy court hearing in the proceedings against Jones’ company Free Speech Systems extend the stay to Jones himself.
After a short recess, Pattis said it took him two phone calls to learn that “no such motion was granted.”
Pattis and an attorney representing the Sandy Hook families, Christopher Mattei, questioned two potential jurors, with Pattis asking questions like how they thought about receiving a jury summons and Mattei asking their thoughts on gun violence and awarding punitive damages. They accepted one and dismissed another potential juror.
By 12:23 p.m., Pattis’ removal to bankruptcy court had been filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Connecticut. The filing said the bankruptcy court had original jurisdiction over the case because Free Speech Systems had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
“Our understanding of the law is that because this proceeding has the potential to substantially affect Free Speech System, it should be in bankruptcy as well and the action should have been stayed,” Pattis said to reporters outside the courtroom. “The judge disagreed. So we took steps to protect Mr. Jones's interest in another court.”
Meanwhile, Mattei described the filing as a “last ditch effort” and said the attorneys representing the Sandy Hook families will file to remand the case back to the third-floor courtoom.
“It’s been consistent with their behavior throughout the case, where as soon as we get one step closer to meaningfully holding him accountable, there’s an effort to delay that,” Mattei said.
This is the latest twist in a long-running case that has already had its share of pretrial drama.
In March, Bellis said Jones violated her order to show up for a deposition in Austin, Texas. She imposed escalating fines to force Jones to sit down in a deposition chair, this time in Connecticut.
In April, Jones sought bankruptcy protection for a couple of the companies also named as defendants in the Connecticut defamation case: Infowars, Infowars Health and Prison Planet TV. Attorneys for the Sandy Hook families dismissed the companies from the Connecticut litigation. A bankruptcy judge in Texas later dismissed the filing.
In Jones’ home state of Texas, a trial in a case brought by the parents of a child killed in the massacre seeking $150 million in damages, began at the end of July. The Texas jury is also only assessing damages because of a second default judgment sanction levied against Jones there.
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