Fox, Dominion seek pretrial wins in $1.6 billion defamation case
By Jack Queen
March 21 (Reuters) - Lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems are set on Tuesday to ask a Delaware judge to find Fox Corp liable for defamation over airing debunked vote-rigging claims, while Fox lawyers fighting a $1.6 billion lawsuit counter that the network's 2020 election coverage was constitutionally protected speech.
Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis is scheduled to preside over a hearing in Wilmington ahead of the scheduled April 17 start of the high-profile defamation trial. Both sides are seeking to convince Davis that he should rule in their favor without the need for the case to go to trial.
Dominion sued Fox Corp and Fox News in 2021, accusing them of ruining its reputation by airing false claims by Republican former President Donald Trump and his lawyers that the Denver-based company's voting machines were used to rig the outcome of the election against him and in favor of Democrat Joe Biden.
It is one of the most closely watched defamation cases involving a major U.S. media organization in years, pitting the influential cable news network that features conservative commentators against a voting-technology company that claims Fox's coverage destroyed its business.
If the judge finds Fox liable for defamation at this stage of the litigation, the trial would concern only how much it must pay Dominion in damages.
Fox has argued in court papers that coverage of election-rigging claims by Trump and his lawyers was inherently newsworthy and protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press.
Both sides are seeking summary judgment - asking the judge to decide the case in their favor before it goes to a jury trial. Davis is expected to hear arguments on several issues including whether the claims that Fox News aired were defamatory, protected as newsworthy reporting and commentary and whether Fox is responsible for Dominion's claimed damages.
Dominion has said in court filings that a trove of documents unearthed in the case's discovery process prove Fox executives and news staff knew the election-rigging claims were false but aired them anyway in pursuit of ratings. Dominion argues this meets the "actual malice" standard to win a defamation case under which plaintiffs must prove a defendant knowingly spread false information or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.
A filing by Dominion in the case last month was replete with references to emails and statements in which Fox Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch and other top Fox executives say the claims made about Dominion on-air were false.
Fox has accused Dominion of cherry-picking from internal communications and deposition testimony to paint a misleading picture. Fox also has said Dominion's $1.6 billion damages claim is disproportionate to the company's actual value.
(Reporting by Jack Queen in New York; Additional reporting by Helen Coster; Editing by Will Dunham and Amy Stevens)