WATERBURY, Ct. (CN) — A defamation case against Infowars creator Alex Jones for saying that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax ended in default judgment Monday following his failure to cooperate in discovery.
Ruling from the bench Tuesday morning in Fairfield District Superior Court, Judge Barbara Bellis said Jones frustrated efforts by the families of victims from the 2012 massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, to get information about Jones’ business finances and the analytics of how his social media posts and websites performed.
“Discovery isn’t supposed to be a guessing game,” Bellis said, noting a default judgment is a sanction of last resort and that her decision was not a punishment.
“The court held off on scheduling the sanctions hearing in the hopes that many of these problems would be corrected and that the Jones defendants would ultimately comply with their discovery obligations,” Bellis said.
On Sept. 30 — three days after Jones lost a similar defamation case by default judgment in Texas — Bellis warned that sanctions would be coming given “continued failure to meet their discovery obligations in violation of the court's order.” Specifically, Jones and four businesses associated with him failed to properly hand over Google Analytics data.
The judge held three hearings to determine what sanctions she should impose. Before announcing her decision Monday, Bellis said she would sign a copy of her ruling for the purpose of any appeal.
Christopher Mattei, an attorney for the Sandy Hook families, said at the hearing that the financial documents Jones and his companies handed over were nonsensical and incomplete.
“What we have attempted to discover here is their relationship to what they publish and their revenue. … What they have left us with is a batch of financial records that is totally unreliable," said Mattei of the firm Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder.
While the attorney for Jones brushed the errors off as matters of formatting, Mattei said whole accounts were deleted from the documents.
Mattei represents some of the family members of individuals killed in the Sandy Hook massacre who sued Alex Jones in 2018 for claiming the shooting that killed 20 children and six adults was staged and a fabrication. It was a claim, the Sandy Hook families contend, that has caused them to receive death threats and harassment.
The case sits on a complex litigation docket after it was transferred to federal court and transferred back to state court.
Jones and his co-defendants have gotten on wrong side of the court before, earning a previous sanction in 2019 when a dozen images of child porn were found in the electronic metadata Jones handed over in discovery. After the Sandy Hook families flagged the metadata, Bellis found Jones had issued threats.
Jay Wolman, of the firm Randazza Legal Group, said Mattei’s assertions about his clients’ financial records was a mischaracterization. The formatting error caused a couple lines to be hidden from the documents, Wolman said. The issue didn’t warrant sanctions, Wolman said, and instead was an attempt by the Sandy Hook families from addressing the merits of the case they brought against Jones.
“He’s misrepresenting things here and he’s trying to get in one fell swoop what he’s not entitled to,” Wolman said.
Instead, Wolman said due process rights should prevail and a jury should determine whether any liability exists.
Furthermore, Wolman said, Jones referred to the Sandy Hook shooting a handful of times in the tens of thousands of articles published on his platforms and while he broadcasted on air six days a week for five to six years. If the suit was against The New York Times, Wolman said, the Sandy Hook families wouldn’t be “pecking through their finances.”
In her ruling, Bellis said the Jones defendants handed over “sanitized, inaccurate records” that were not in accordance with court orders.
When it came to web analytics, the Jones defendants produced documents that “fall short procedurally and substantively,” Bellis said. With the deadline for written discovery past, the Jones defendants failed to produced data from platforms such as Alexa or the analytics from YouTube.
While Wolman argued Jones did not use web analytics to run his business, Bellis pointed to an email attached to one of the Sandy Hook families’ briefs that showed employees of Jones relying on analytics to made decisions on how they should engage with their social media audience.
The case, Bellis said, would turn to determining damages. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, where Bellis will consider several motions regarding sealing documents.
Mattei said after the hearing that while the ruling is a victory, his clients will continue the litigation to show how Jones’ statements hurt the Sandy Hook families.
"As the court noted, Alex Jones and his companies have deliberately concealed evidence of the relationship between what they publish and how they make money," Mattei said in a statement. "Mr. Jones was given every opportunity to comply but, when he chose instead to withhold evidence for more than two years, the court was left with no choice but to rule as it did today.”
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