A district judge in Texas has been asked to issue default judgements in four lawsuits brought against the radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in connection with comments he made about the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. Jones claimed that no shooting took place and that the grieving parents interviewed by the news media were actually paid actors. Most people dismissed these claims, but a small yet vocal fringe minority took them seriously and subjected the parents to a torrent of angry abuse.
This fevered response added to the parents’ already considerable emotional distress and prompted four of them to sue Jones for defamation. These lawsuits were filed several years ago, but Jones has still not turned over crucial evidence like radio show recordings and social media posts. On Aug. 31, an attorney representing the families asked the judge presiding over the cases to hold Jones in contempt of court for violating her court orders and pretrial discovery rules.
The attorney has also asked the judge to grant the families default judgement because the comments made by Jones were so outrageous and the abuse suffered by parents was so egregious. While Jones was refusing to turn over documents and other evidence, his attorneys were busy trying to get the cases dismissed. Those efforts reached their futile conclusion in January when the Texas Supreme Court upheld two lower court rulings that allowed the cases to continue.
Judges grant motions for default judgement when one of the parties involved in a lawsuit has acted to prevent the case from moving forward and ignored court orders. This settles liability issues in favor of the party that made the motion, but determining damages will still be left to a jury. This is a complex and sensitive process in defamation cases where damages for emotional distress and reputational harm can be difficult to quantify.