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Alex Jones’ defense team gets Connecticut defamation case held up during jury selection

Briana Sanchez / AP
Austin American-Statesman
Alex Jones talks to reporters during a midday break in the trial at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, July 26, 2022. An attorney for the parents of one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting told jurors that Jones repeatedly “lied and attacked the parents of murdered children” when he told his Infowars audience that the 2012 attack was a hoax. Attorney Mark Bankston said during his opening statement to determine damages against Jones that the Infowars host created a “massive campaign of lies” and recruited “wild extremists from the fringes of the internet ... who were as cruel as Mr. Jones wanted them to be" to the victims' families. Jones later blasted the case, calling it a “show trial” and an assault on the First Amendment.

Proceedings in the Connecticut defamation lawsuit filed on behalf of Sandy Hook families against Infowars host Alex Jones have stopped for now.

Jury selection began Tuesday, but after several potential jurors were interviewed, a defense attorney notified the court and the plaintiffs that the case was being removed to federal bankruptcy court in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

“To remove the case as a last-ditch effort to stop jury selection in the middle of picking jurors for a trial that’s scheduled to come up next month is just another way that Mr. Jones has tried to delay his accountability in Connecticut,” said Chris Mattei, an attorney representing families of victims killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

“But, as long as it takes, our families will wait and persist in their effort to get justice for themselves and their families in the memories of their loved ones,” he said.

Jones was sued in 2018 for defamation. The plaintiffs contend they were “profoundly harmed” when Jones said the shooting didn’t happen and accused families of being crisis actors.

Before a panel of 22 prospective jurors who met the court on Tuesday, defense attorney Norm Pattis tried to get Judge Barbara Bellis to delay the start of jury selection. He asked Bellis for a recess until Friday, when a federal bankruptcy court is scheduled to hold a hearing related to Jones’ company Free Speech Systems and its recent bankruptcy filing in Texas.

Pattis said he’d be in an “awkward position” defending one client in the lawsuit but not the other. Bellis ruled that the case in Connecticut should move forward, provided Jones wasn’t extended a stay granted to the company Free Speech Systems following the bankruptcy filing — or Jones himself doesn’t file for bankruptcy. But, after several interviews and both sides accepting one juror, Bellis had to stop the proceedings.

“Our understanding of the law is that because this proceeding had the potential to substantially affect Free Speech Systems, it should be in bankruptcy court as well and the action should’ve been stayed,” Pattis told Connecticut Public after Bellis halted proceedings. “The judge disagreed, so we took steps to protect Mr. Jones’ interests in another court.”

Jones is on trial in Texas and Connecticut related to conspiracy theories spread on his Infowars show and on social media. Evidence is being presented in Texas. The Connecticut case is on hold for now, as it was for a month and a half back in April, when three other entities listed as defendants in the lawsuit filed for bankruptcy protection: Infowars LLC and two subsidiaries, Infowars Health LLC and Prison Planet LLC. The case was remanded to the Waterbury court on June 1, and the entities were removed as named defendants in the docket a day later so that proceedings could move forward against Jones.

Jones has already lost the cases by default. The lawsuits continue to a jury trial to determine how much Jones will pay in damages.

In Texas, plaintiffs are asking for $150 million. It is not yet known how much is at stake in the Connecticut lawsuit.

During jury selection Tuesday, potential Connecticut jurors were asked if they would put a price tag on what Jones said about the shooting. They were also asked about their beliefs about gun control and assault weapons.

Erica Lafferty was sitting in the Waterbury courtroom in support of the plaintiffs. Lafferty’s mother, Dawn Hochsprung, was principal of the Sandy Hook Elementary School when she was killed along with five other educators and 20 children on Dec. 14, 2012. Her attorney, Chris Mattei, said Lafferty is “determined” to get justice.

Mattei said he plans to file an order to get the case remanded back to Bellis’ court in Waterbury. Until the case is moved back, Bellis says attorneys should be prepared to return to court within 24 hours' notice.

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