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Mar 28, 2023
Murdoch's Travel Plans Upend Fox Claim He's Too Old to Go to Delaware for Trial
(Bloomberg) -- A judge balked at Fox Corp.’s suggestion that it may be too burdensome for Rupert Murdoch to testify in the $1.6 billion defamation trial against Fox News over its reporting on bogus claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged.
At a hearing Tuesday in Dominion Voting Systems Inc.’s lawsuit, Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis cited a letter from Fox claiming Murdoch’s age and lack of direct control over election coverage warranted allowing his testimony to rest on his January deposition.
“There is no reason to subject Mr. Murdoch to the burdens of testifying live at trial,” Fox said in the March 20 letter. He was “far-removed from the events in dispute. Mr. Murdoch was in Great Britain under Covid-19 lockdown during the entire relevant time-period.”
Davis said he had heard that the 92-year-old Fox Corp. chairman had publicly discussed his extensive plans to travel while celebrating his St. Patrick’s Day engagement to Ann Lesley Smith, 66.
“That doesn’t sound like someone who can’t go from New York to Wilmington,” the judge said during the hearing conducted over the phone. “Let’s get the story straight on these types of things so I don’t look like an idiot if I rule on something.”
Read More: Murdoch Testified That Fox Hosts ‘Endorsed’ Election Lie
Dominion, whose voting machines are used across the US, sued Fox News for trashing its reputation by allowing on-air personalties and guests to falsely accuse the company of flipping millions of votes away from Donald Trump. The trial is set to start April 17.
Fox’s lawyer said the company didn’t mean to imply that Murdoch couldn’t travel but that the media giant was merely suggesting there was no reason to force him to testify given the deposition already available to the jury.
Davis also expressed annoyance at what he suggested was Fox downplaying his ability to compel certain witnesses to testify. He said it’s “quite clear” that he can order officers or directors to testify if a company is incorporated in Delaware.
“I’m getting a little irritated on this,” Davis said, suggesting at one point that Fox had a “unique” understanding of his authority.
Both sides are hoping to avoid a trial by winning a so-called summary judgment from Davis, who is expected to rule on their requests in the next few weeks. Fox has denied defaming Dominion and said it was merely reporting on serious allegations made by Trump and his lawyers about the election.
Dominion’s witness list includes Murdoch as well as key figures who are accused of amplifying the false conspiracy theory, including Maria Bartiromo, Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Evidence uncovered by Dominion shows many Fox personalities and executives knew the election-fraud theory was nonsense even as the network booked guests including Rudy Giuliani who continued to fan the flames.
“Dominion is a strong believer in the First Amendment and its protections,” the company said in a statement. “As long-settled law makes clear, the First Amendment does not shield broadcasters that knowingly or recklessly spread lies.”
Fox News criticized Dominion’s proposed list of witnesses, without weighing in specifically on Murdoch.
“Dominion’s needlessly expansive live witness list is yet another attempt to generate headlines and distract from the many shortcomings of its case,” Fox News said. “Ultimately, this case is about the First Amendment protections of the media’s absolute right to cover the news.”
The case is Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News, N21C-03-257 EMD, Delaware Superior Court (Wilmington).
--With assistance from Jef Feeley.
(Updates with Dominion statement in 12th paragraph. An earlier version of this story was corrected to remove reference to Dominion’s response.)
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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