Legal moves in Texas, Conn. by Infowars’ Alex Jones threaten to delay trial to set damages for Sandy Hook families
Attorneys were scrambling in two states Monday to react to the latest bankruptcy filing by conspiracy theorist and Infowars host Alex Jones — a filing that creates doubt about the start of a trial concerning millions of dollars in potential damages for families of Sandy Hook victims who sued after Jones claimed the massacre was a hoax.
Jones put the company behind his Infowars internet site into federal bankruptcy in Houston Friday, triggering an automatic postponement of an imminent trial in Waterbury that was to determine a damage award to 14 Sandy Hook victims suing Jones and his principal business, Free Speech Systems, in Connecticut Superior Court.
In a related court filing in Superior Court in Waterbury late last week, Jones sued Free Speech Systems, of which he is the sole owner, in an apparent effort to limit his personal liability should the victims in the Connecticut suit obtain a substantial damages verdict. In that filing, Jones demands enforcement of a contract he claims he has with his company to indemnify him personally.
Jury selection in the damages trial was to begin Tuesday at 9 a.m. in Waterbury. It was unclear late Monday whether that would happen. Superior Court judge Barbara Bellis, who has been beset by Jones’ delaying tactics over the suit’s four-year life, ordered all the lawyers associated with the Connecticut litigation to appear before her at 9 a.m.
“Failure to do so will result in sanctions,’ Bellis wrote in a terse order.
Meanwhile in Texas, attorneys for the victims who brought the Connecticut suit were in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston seeking an emergency order that would exempt the suit in Waterbury from a federal law that stays state lawsuits when the target files for bankruptcy protections.
Attorney’s pressing the Connecticut suit filed an emergency motion with the bankruptcy court in Houston Monday. Early indications were that it would be set down for a hearing on Friday, a lawyer familiar with the matter said. The motion argues that Jones is abusing bankruptcy law in an effort to untrack the state lawsuit.
“As of now our case is stayed automatically because of the bankruptcy and nothing else can happen until that stay is lifted by bankruptcy court,” said Christopher Mattei, another lawyer representing victims in the Connecticut suit. “Our hope is the court will address our emergency motion to lift the stay, if not immediately then sometime this week. If he does that, then the bankruptcy can proceed and we can proceed with our trial in Connecticut.”
A separate suit filed against Jones and Free Speech Systems in a Texas state court by a different set of Sandy Hook victims was continuing Monday — at Jones’ request. Jones filed an emergency application to allow the Texas suit to proceed and a bankruptcy judge approved it Monday. A lawyer involved in the matter said Jones wants to allow the Texas damages trial to reach a verdict in order to get a sense of what the jury thinks of the case against him.
Delays in moving the suit forward have tested Bellis’ patience. Jones has repeatedly failed to appear for depositions and respond to orders to produce business records. Last spring, he filed for bankruptcy protection for three other companies he controls that were targets of the Connecticut suit, but withdrew the filings after the victims dropped the companies as defendants.
Late last year Bellis took the extraordinary step of issuing a default order against Jones for failing to comply with court orders — effectively settling the suit in favor of the families and leaving only the question of damages against him and his businesses unresolved. A judge in Texas issued the same ruling in response to Jones’ apparent efforts to stall the case in that state..
A disturbed, 20-year-old man in Newtown walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012 with a semi-automatic rifle and killed 20 first-graders and six educators. The gunman shot his mother to death at their home nearby before going to the school. He killed himself as police arrived.
Jones portrayed the shootings on his Infowars program as a hoax that involved actors and was intended to build pressure for gun control. He has since acknowledged the school shooting did occur.
The Connecticut suit was brought by families of the children and teachers, as well as a first responder. In the Texas bankruptcy court filing Monday, lawyers for the victims said Jones’ radio broadcasts and internet postings opened them to harassment and threats.
“They are also victims of Jones’s lies, which aired via his InfoWars media empire and through social media to an audience of millions,” the filing said. “Jones told that audience that the Sandy Hook shooting was ‘a synthetic completely fake with actors,’ a ‘hologram,’ an ‘illusion’ and ‘the fakest thing since the three-dollar bill,’ ‘staged’ to take away their guns, and that the Sandy Hook families were ‘paid ... totally disingenuous’ ‘crisis actors’ who faked their loved ones’ deaths. He urged the audience to investigate, knowing his audience would respond by cyberstalking, harassing, and threatening the plaintiffs.”