WILMINGTON, Del. — Fox Corporation executives, including Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, had no direct involvement in what aired on the company’s cable news channels, and therefore their company should not be found liable in a $1.6 defamation case, lawyers for Fox argued Wednesday in a Delaware court.
The argument was part of Fox’s request for a pretrial victory. Dominion Voting Systems has accused both Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corporation, of defaming the business. Dominion says Fox’s shows repeatedly linked its voting machines to a vast conspiracy of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
Erin Murphy, a lawyer for both Fox Corporation and Fox News, said there was no evidence that corporate executives were involved in the Fox News shows in question. She said Dominion would need to show that they had directly participated in the broadcasts to meet the high standard needed to prove defamation.
Ms. Murphy conceded that some of the executives had the power to bar certain guests from the shows, but said: “It’s not enough for them to show that they have the ability to step in. They have to have been involved.”
Fox has asked that Fox Corporation be dropped from the lawsuit.
Dominion must prove that Fox knowingly broadcast false information about the company, or was reckless enough to disregard substantial evidence that the claims were not true. Defamation cases have traditionally proved hard to win because of the First Amendment’s broad free speech protections. But legal experts say Dominion may have enough evidence to clear that high bar.
Dominion, too, is asking for summary judgment; its legal team gave its arguments in Delaware Superior Court on Tuesday. The judge, Eric M. Davis, said he would make his decision by April 11. A jury trial is scheduled to start April 17.
Judge Davis told both sides on Wednesday that he preferred for trial witnesses to appear in person rather than over a video link, setting up the possibility that Fox News hosts like Maria Bartiromo and Tucker Carlson could show up. He said Rupert Murdoch might also be compelled to testify in person, though he did not issue any decisions on the matter.
Fox lawyers had submitted a letter to the judge on Monday asking that Mr. Murdoch and some other executives not be compelled to testify, saying that it would amount to “hardships” on the witnesses and that their testimony would “add nothing other than media interest.”
After Fox finished it arguments, a lawyer for several media outlets, including The New York Times, asked the judge to review redactions that Fox had made to some of the communications it handed over, arguing that Fox kept too much confidential. Judge Davis said he would consider the request.
Judge Davis also remarked on a lawsuit filed in Delaware on Monday by a Fox News producer, Abby Grossberg. She argues that Fox lawyers coerced her into providing misleading information in her deposition in the Dominion lawsuit.
Judge Davis said the lawsuit had been originally assigned to him but then given to another judge in Delaware Superior Court.
Fox News said in a statement on Wednesday: “Despite the noise and confusion that Dominion has generated by presenting cherry-picked quotes without context, this case is ultimately about the First Amendment protections of the media’s absolute need to cover the news.”
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