HARTFORD, Conn. — A Connecticut judge has ruled conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is responsible for all damages in the defamation lawsuits brought against him by the families of those killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting after his repeated claims that the Newtown massacre was a hoax.
Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis issued a default in the lawsuits Monday morning after years of what she found to be inappropriate conduct by Jones’ attorneys regarding depositions and the “callous disregard of their obligation” to turn over financial and web analytics data as ordered by the court.
The default is the most severe sanction Bellis could issue, ruling in favor of the Sandy Hook families and sending the case directly to a jury to award damages without the much-anticipated civil trial.
“Mr. Jones is very used to saying whatever he wants to say from the comfort of his own studio, but what I think this case has shown is that when he is forced to defend his conduct in a court of law and comply with court orders, that it’s a very different ballgame,” said attorney Chris Mattei, a lawyer representing the Sandy Hook families. “The fact that the court was left with no choice but to default him shows just how unwilling Mr. Jones was to have his conduct exposed to the light of day in front of a jury.”
The ruling in the Connecticut lawsuits essentially mirrors a Texas judge’s decision in late September to default Jones in three similar defamation lawsuits filed by victims’ families there amid similar accusations that Jones repeatedly ignored orders to turn over records to the families’ lawyers. Now the lawsuits in both states will be turned over to juries, likely sometime next year, to hear the extent to which Jones’ conspiracy theories harmed the families.
The defaults are the latest turn in the highly contentious legal battle against Jones by parents of several children killed in the horrific 2012 shooting that left 20 first graders and six educators dead. The families sued Jones for defamation after he repeatedly portrayed the Newtown massacre as a hoax on his online Infowars show, ostensibly designed to prompt new gun control measures.
Jones had claimed his inflammatory monologues were protected by the First Amendment, even though he now admits he was wrong and has since conceded in court that the shooting did occur.
The families’ attorneys have argued Jones deliberately capitalized on the conspiracy theories about the shooting order to grow his online Infowars audience, growing the reach for the products he sold online and in turn his companies’ profits. They sought detailed financial ledgers and web analytics data in an attempt to prove a correlation between the company’s growing audience on the back of Jones’ inflammatory rhetoric and his profits, but argued Jones’ defense attorneys have instead lied and obscured their way through several iterations of providing that information for more than two years.
“This wasn’t easy to get to this point,” Mattei said. “We requested this information back in 2019, we’ve had to fight for it; we’ve had to overcome deceit, false statements to us and the court. It was only through our clients’ determination that we were ultimately able to prove to the court that this information was withheld.”
Bellis agreed Monday, concluding in her ruling for default that Jones’ attorneys provided only “sanitized, inaccurate” financial records and showed “callous disregard” for her repeated rulings to provide complete analytics data. The attorneys also inappropriately included information from a confidential deposition this summer in a motion seeking to question former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, suggesting Clinton had arranged the families’ lawsuit as a vendetta against Jones after her 2016 loss to former President Donald Trump, she found.
She found Jones’ attorneys’ actions “were not just careful” but constituted “a pattern of obstructive conduct” requiring the most severe sanction of default, what she called a “last resort.”
“Neither the court nor the parties can expect perfection when it comes to the discovery process,” Bellis read to the attorneys from her written ruling. “What is required, however, and what all parties are entitled to, is fundamental fairness that the other side produces information which is within their knowledge, possession and power and that the other side meet its continuing duty to disclose additional and new material.”
“Here the Jones defendants were not just careless,” she continued. “Their failure to produce critical documents, (and) their disregard for the discovery process and procedure and court orders, is a pattern of obstructive conduct that interferes with the ability of the plaintiff to conduct meaningful discovery.”
Bellis has lambasted Jones’ lead defense attorney Jay Wolman over several hourslong hearings in recent weeks for his conduct over the past several months and repeatedly signaled she was preparing Monday’s ruling should Wolman’s conduct continue.
She referred back to her previous sanction against Jones in 2019 for not turning over documents and his 20-minute, profanity-laced tirade about the case on his show, during which he referred to Mattei and a $1 million bounty “to put your head on a pike.” The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld Bellis’ sanction, which barred Jones from filing a motion to dismiss the case, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Jones’ appeal of the decision this spring.
Wolman has called Mattei’s accusations about the withholding of records and information “ridiculous” and that the families essentially were trying to engineer a conspiracy of their own that Jones was profiting from his supposed coverage of the tragedy.
“This is not a sanctions issue, this is a way to try to circumvent the merits, your honor, and the plaintiffs cannot circumvent the merits,” Wolman said. “They’re trying to find a needle in a haystack where there is no needle. This is a classic fishing expedition.”
Wolman himself may be subject to more sanctions over what Bellis has called “abusive questioning” during a deposition this fall and is scheduled to appear before Bellis with his own attorney regarding possible discipline next month. He could not immediately be reached after the hearing Monday.
Mattei praised the Sandy Hook families’ determination over the past several years to persevere when Jones’ defense has thrown roadblocks at them constantly, he said.
Erica Lafferty, who had been a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, tweeted just one word shortly after the ruling: “justice.” Her late mother, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary who died during the shooting, and Lafferty has become an outspoken critic of Jones and advocate for gun safety in the years since.
The families will have an opportunity to present to a jury the extent to which Jones’ rhetoric harmed them and Mattei said the families’ attorneys will continue to take depositions and seek records from Jones’ companies ahead of those hearings.
Jones himself is scheduled to be deposed Dec. 14 — the ninth anniversary of the shooting.
“Our clients have fought long and hard for their day in court and they are going to get that,” Mattei said.
Story by Zach Murdock, Hartford Courant.