Judge rules out separate defamation trials for Fox News and Fox Corp

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The judge presiding over a voting machine company’s defamation lawsuit against Fox has denied the firm’s request to hold separate trials — one for Fox News and another for the network’s parent company.

The request by Dominion Voting Systems came a day after its lawyers told the judge that Fox lawyers had withheld critical information about the role played at Fox News by company founder Rupert Murdoch, who is chairman of Fox Corp.

Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis, who consolidated the cases against both entities in December, refused Dominion’s request to hold a separate trial during which Mr Murdoch would give evidence as a Fox News witness.

Dominion lawyers had told the judge that they had learned this week that Mr Murdoch also was an officer of Fox News, holding the title of executive chairman. That was contrary to repeated assertions by Fox lawyers.

Donald Trump
The case revolves around Donald Trump’s election defeat in 2020 (Evan Vucci/AP)

The company’s lawyers have sought to insulate members of the Murdoch family from the lawsuit, including trying to keep them from giving evidence live before a jury.

The lawyers have argued that executives’ roles at the parent company, Fox Corp, removed them from the day-to-day decisions that allowed the false election claims to be aired on various Fox News programmes.

Fox Corp had claimed since Colorado-based Dominion filed its lawsuit in 2021 that Mr Murdoch had no official role at Fox News.

In its filings, it had listed Fox News officers as Jay Wallace, Joe Dorrego and Suzanne Scott, who is Fox News’ chief executive, but on Sunday, Fox disclosed to Dominion’s lawyers that Mr Murdoch was also “executive chair” at Fox News.

In a statement, Fox said he has been listed as executive chairman of Fox News in Securities and Exchange Commission filings since 2019.

Voting Machines Defamation Lawsuit
Dominion Voting Systems ballot-counting machines (Andres Leighton/AP)

“No. My son is the chief executive of everything at Fox,” he initially replied, referring to his son Lachlan Murdoch, who is executive chairman of Fox Corp.

He later said: “I may have had that title in the past. I may have it now. I don’t know.”

Fox lawyers have said Mr Murdoch’s title at Fox News was “honorific” and that he has had no role in day-to-day management.

Dominion lawyers contend that Fox’s late disclosure of Mr Murdoch’s dual role has deprived Dominion of the ability to produce documents from him to which it otherwise would have been entitled.

As an alternative to ordering separate trials, Dominion lawyers said the judge should give an “adverse inference” to jurors about Fox’s conduct.

Judge Davis declined to rule on that request, saying Dominion would have to offer evidence to support it and that Fox would have a chance to respond.

But he added: “What do I do with attorneys that aren’t straightforward with me?” suggesting the conduct of Fox lawyers could result in unspecified sanctions.

A trial in the case is set to start on Thursday with jury selection.

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