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Alex Jones liable by default in remaining Sandy Hook defamation suits

In this Sept. 5, 2018, file photo, Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones spoke outside of the Dirksen building on Capitol Hill in Washington.Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A state court in Connecticut granted a sweeping victory to the families of eight people killed in a 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., who had sued far-right broadcaster and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars media outlet for defamation.

The judge ruled Monday that because Jones had refused to turn over documents ordered by the courts, including financial records, he was liable by default. The decision, combined with previous rulings in Texas in late September, means Jones has lost all the defamation lawsuits filed against him by the families of 10 victims.

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Lawyers for Jones said he would appeal.

Jones for years spread bogus theories that the shooting that killed 20 first-graders and six educators was part of a government-led plot to confiscate Americans’ firearms and that the victims’ families were “actors” in the scheme. People who believed those false claims accosted the families on the street and at events honoring their slain loved ones, abused them online, contacted them at their homes, and threatened their lives.

The parents of Noah Pozner, the youngest Sandy Hook victim, were the first to sue Jones, have moved nearly 10 times since the shooting, and live in hiding.

“I would love to go see my son’s grave, and I don’t get to do that,” Noah’s mother, Veronique De La Rosa, said in an interview after the cases were filed in 2018. Each time the family moved, conspiracists published their new home address “with the speed of light,” she said.

The Sandy Hook families maintain that Jones profited from spreading lies about their relatives’ murders. Jones has disputed that, while for years failing to produce sufficient records to bolster his claims.

Juries in Connecticut and Texas will next decide how much Jones should pay the families in damages, in addition to court costs. Those trials are scheduled for next year in both states.

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The Connecticut case was brought by the families of eight Sandy Hook victims and an FBI agent who responded to the shooting and was falsely portrayed as a participant in the “hoax.” The lawsuits in Texas were filed by the parents of Noah Pozner and Jesse Lewis.

Jones broadcasts conspiracy-themed content on the radio and online while selling diet supplements, survival gear, and other merchandise. He began spreading false claims about the shooting shortly after it occurred on Dec. 14, 2012, including that it was a “false flag” staged by the Obama administration to justify taking away Americans’ guns. An ally of former president Donald Trump, Jones also advances vaccine misinformation on his Infowars show, as well as lies about 2020 election fraud.

Jones responded to the Connecticut ruling during his show Monday. “We need to defend all of our speech rights to say whatever it is we wish. That’s the First Amendment,” he said.

Although jury trials in Texas and Connecticut are set for next year, Jones then asserted that “these individuals again are not allowing me to have a jury trial because they know the things they said I supposedly did didn’t happen, and they know they didn’t have a case for damages.”

Chris Mattei, a lawyer for the families in Connecticut, responded that “if Mr. Jones’s conduct here were protected by the First Amendment, he would have had every opportunity to make that case. But he chose to be defaulted.”

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“He deliberately chose to prevent us from collecting evidence that would prove how his business works and why he engaged in this extended campaign against the families, and the relationship between that and his profitability.”

The rulings all came in response to Jones’s repeated failure to produce documents ordered by the courts in the run-up to trial including financial records that would shed light on his business operation, and analytics that could show how his claims about Sandy Hook affected traffic to his Infowars website and online store.

The Texas and Connecticut lawsuits were filed in mid-2018 and have been accompanied ever since by unusual maneuvering from Jones’s legal team. In recent weeks, Jones’s lawyers sought to depose former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an apparent effort to bolster Jones’s theories that Clinton played some role in the lawsuits.

Barbara N. Bellis, the Connecticut Superior Court judge who ruled against Jones on Monday, criticized the effort to depose Clinton because the motion was filed publicly and included details from a sealed deposition by a victim’s relative.

Earlier this month, Jones’s lawyers filed a motion seeking Bellis’s recusal, citing a “cloud of apparent bias and antagonism.”

Jones has been sanctioned before by Bellis, including after he went on his show with his attorney, Norm Pattis, at his side and offered $1 million for the head of Mattei, the Connecticut families’ lawyer, “on a pike.”

In a decision in Texas last month, Travis County District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled that Jones and his legal team exercised “flagrant bad faith and callous disregard for the responsibilities of discovery under the rules.” In more than three years of litigation, Jones and his lawyers had similarly failed to produce documents and take other actions ordered by the court.

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Jones said in a Texas deposition that Sandy Hook was “one-tenth of one percent of what I cover” and that making his claims about the shooting had cost him audience share. But he failed to provide proof of that assertion.

“We always knew we’d beat Jones, but even we couldn’t predict that it would happen in such a ridiculous fashion,’’ said Mark Bankston, who represents the Sandy Hook families suing Jones in Texas. “I have never in my career seen such a dumb farce play out in a courtroom.’’

In Texas, Infowars accumulated more than $100,000 in sanctions from the court, including for ignoring orders to produce documents. Jones and his staff also failed to show up for scheduled depositions, lawyers for the families said.