Fox News’ strategic move to settle a potential trial by paying nearly $800 million in response to defamation accusations from Dominion Voting Systems appears to be yielding favorable results. In a recent development, a New York state Supreme Court judge issued an order, advancing claims from both sides in the dispute.
The core of the legal battle revolves around accusations that Fox News, in an effort to boost ratings, exploited the popularity of former President Donald Trump by promoting a narrative that Smartmatic was responsible for unfairly causing him to lose the 2020 presidential election. The court’s order, issued on Wednesday, highlighted the complexity of the case.
On one hand, the judge found that Smartmatic must face Fox News’ counterclaims, which accuse the voting machine company of attempting to suppress the network’s freedom of speech through a $2.7 billion lawsuit.
The court’s reasoning, in part, relied on the absence of a definitive verdict concluding that Fox News had defamed Dominion Voting Systems. The order emphasized that there remained a triable issue of fact for trial regarding whether Fox News acted with actual malice.
However, the judge also ruled in favor of Smartmatic by refusing to dismiss its defamation lawsuit against Fox News.
Justice David Cohen determined that Smartmatic had sufficiently alleged that the network’s employees played an affirmative role in disseminating false statements and acted with malice to benefit Fox Corp.’s financial interests.
Despite Fox News settling a similar defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems for $788 million, the network continues to face legal challenges over broadcasting conspiracy theories about the alleged theft of the 2020 election.
Fox Corp.’s board of directors was previously sued for allegedly adopting a business model centered on pursuing profits through the intentional broadcast of falsehoods, disregarding the risk of defamation claims.
The crux of the dispute involves defamatory statements made by Fox News, including claims that Smartmatic is a Venezuelan company controlled by corrupt dictators, its election technology was used in six swing states with close outcomes, its software was designed to manipulate elections, and the company had been banned from prior U.S. elections.
Despite Fox’s attempts to seek an early dismissal of Smartmatic’s $2.7 billion lawsuit, arguing an exaggeration of damages and an infringement on its First Amendment rights, the judge found that Smartmatic’s suit has a substantial legal basis.
However, the court emphasized that there has been no binding determination on the validity of Smartmatic’s claims, and the argument regarding damages impacting free speech rights has yet to be adjudicated in any court.
The court’s order issued on Wednesday presented advancements for both sides, allowing the legal battle to proceed. The judge’s decision not to dismiss the suit against Fox News highlighted allegations against key executives, including former chairman Rupert Murdoch and his successor, Lachlan Murdoch, who were accused of having editorial control and decision-making authority over the network.