Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems reached a $787.5 million settlement agreement Tuesday afternoon, the parties announced, narrowly heading off a trial shortly after the jury was sworn in.
“Fox has admitted to telling lies,” John Poulos, Dominion’s CEO, said at a news conference after the trial ended.
Dominion’s principal attorney, Justin Nelson, told NBC News that he hopes the settlement will restore trust in elections.
“This can’t possibly be enough, can it?” But this demonstrates responsibility, since we demonstrated that if you are caught lying, you will be held accountable,” he stated.
There was no apology or admission that the network had indeed defamed Dominion when it allowed unfounded rumors to circulate on air about the company’s voting devices “rigging” the 2020 presidential election against Donald Trump.
Fox acknowledged in a statement regarding the accord that the court’s previous finding that the assertions Dominion had contested in its defamation complaint were indeed without merit.
“We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” Fox said in a statement. “This agreement reflects Fox’s ongoing dedication to the highest journalistic standards.” We trust that our choice to settle this disagreement with Dominion amicably, rather than through a divisive trial, will allow the country to move on from these difficulties.”
When pressed, a spokesperson for Dominion said “an apology is about accountability, and today Dominion held Fox accountable.”
Stephen Shackelford Jr., the attorney who was scheduled to make opening arguments for Dominion on Tuesday, stated that “money is accountability.”
Rumors of settlement discussions have circulated for days, especially after the court announced late Sunday that it would postpone the finish of jury selection and opening arguments until Tuesday morning.
The agreement resolves a months-long legal struggle over whether Fox defamed the voting equipment manufacturer when it broadcast election conspiracy claims in 2020. The decision was made at the eleventh hour, after the jury had been seated and media and attorneys had been waiting for hours for opening comments to begin.
“The parties have resolved their case,” Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis announced to the jurors Tuesday afternoon. “That means your service is complete, and I’ll excuse you.” I apologize for keeping you waiting.”
Dominion filed a lawsuit against Fox News in 2021, seeking $1.6 billion in damages. It claimed that the network slandered it by broadcasting false claims that it was linked to late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, that it paid kickbacks to politicians, and that its machines “rigged” the 2020 presidential election by shifting millions of votes from Trump to Joe Biden.
The settlement came after a bruising week for Fox News. During pretrial conference hearings, Davis sanctioned the network for withholding evidence, and admonished it for not being straightforward with him.
He said he would allow Dominion to conduct an additional deposition with Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch at Fox’s expense. Davis also ruled that Fox lawyers could not use newsworthiness as a legal defense, limiting their possible trial strategies.
Davis also appointed a special master on Tuesday to investigate whether Fox cooperated with court-ordered discovery. The deal also brought a stop to that investigation.
Few defamation cases make it this far, but outside legal experts say the case — and the astonishing claims and evidence that fueled it — was one-of-a-kind.
According to those experts, the settlement is a good outcome for Dominion since it avoids having to wait years for a potential jury-awarded judgment that is stalled in the appeals process.
Although not all settlement terms have been released, experts consider Fox’s payout to be among the largest.
“This number is not small,” said RonNell Andersen Jones, a professor at the University of Utah College of Law who specializes in the First Amendment. “It might be the biggest of its kind in history.”
Juries are always a risk, especially in a politically divisive case, she added.
“While going to a jury based on ‘presumed damages’ and malice often results in tremendous damages, it’s still a crapshoot,” Anthony Michael Glassman, a longtime media lawyer who has represented both news outlets and the subjects of stories, said in an email.
A hefty settlement without a trial “is the right way to go,” he added.
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