US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones told to pay extra $45 mn in punitive damages

Published on Aug 06, 2022 04:29 AM IST
The two awards total nearly $50 million, well below the $150 million that parents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis sought for the InfoWars host’s assertions that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, Conn., was fabricated. Their six-year-old, Jesse Lewis, was killed in the shooting.
File photo of radio show host Alex Jones(AFP)
File photo of radio show host Alex Jones(AFP)
Bloomberg |

A Texas jury on Friday ordered Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim, a day after he was ordered to pay $4.1 million in actual damages for claiming that the school shooting was a hoax.

The two awards total nearly $50 million, well below the $150 million that parents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis sought for the InfoWars host’s assertions that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, Conn., was fabricated. Their six-year-old, Jesse Lewis, was killed in the shooting.

“I am asking you to take the bullhorn away from Alex Jones and all others who believe they can profit off fear and misinformation,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Wesley Ball said during closing arguments Friday.

“I suggest to you to return a verdict that is proportionate,” Jones’ attorney Andino Reynal said during his own closing, asking jurors to order just $270,000 in punitive damages. “You’ve already sent a message. A message for the first time to a talk show host, to all talk show hosts, that their standard of care has to change.”

Friday’s unanimous ruling closes the two-week trial in Travis County, Texas.

“This case can be a bellwether case for future settlement cases,” Holly Davis of Kirker Davis LLP, a trial attorney in Austin who assisted the plaintiffs’ attorneys with the case, said. “Future lawsuits and litigants can look to the jury award in this case to help them determine the range of awards juries are giving plaintiffs.”

Friday’s damages are punishment for Jones’ statements, while Thursday’s damages were meant to compensate the parents for economic and noneconomic damages like emotional distress.

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In Texas, there are statutory limits on punitive damages, with a per-defendant cap of two times the amount of economic damages, plus the amount of noneconomic damages found by the jury—the latter part not to exceed $750,000. The trial judge may reduce the punitive damages given those caps, and Jones’ attorneys said immediately after the verdict that they would file a motion to reduce the punitive award.

“We do not believe punitive damage caps are constitutional as applied to our case and will certainly litigate that issue if necessary,” Mark Bankston, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, told Bloomberg Law.

Jones and InfoWars’ parent company, Free Speech Systems LLC, were co-defendants in the case.

Jones conceded under oath this week that the massacre was “100% real.” He also admitted that it was irresponsible of him to declare the shooting a hoax.

The trial was shocking at times, including when Bankston told Jones that his defense team had accidentally sent the plaintiffs’ lawyers a record of previously requested text messages.

“That’s how I know you lied to me,” Bankston told Jones, who had claimed he had no Sandy Hook texts on his phone.

In a emergency motion hearing Thursday, Reynal asked the judge for a protective order over the documents, including 2.3 gigabytes worth of material.

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During that hearing, Bankston revealed that the Jan. 6 Committee asked him to turn over Jones’ text messages and that he would unless Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of the 459th District Court in Travis County sealed the record.

Gamble denied the motion and an accompanying motion for a mistrial.

The defamation case vindicates Jesse’s memory, Ball said during closing arguments on Friday.

The court already determined in a 2021 default judgment that Jones was liable for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Farrar & Ball LLP represented the parents. Reynal Law Firm PC represented Jones.

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