Dominion Voting Systems said in a court filing Monday that it wants to put some of Fox News’ top executives and most well-known hosts on the witness stand when its $1.6 billion defamation case against the right-wing network goes to trial.
Among the network personnel that the voting technology company wants to call as witnesses are Fox News chief executive Suzanne Scott; Fox News President Jay Wallace; hosts Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Maria Bartiromo, Laura Ingraham, and Bret Baier; and former executive Bill Sammon and politics editor Chris Stirewalt.
Dominion also said it wishes to call to the stand Abby Grossberg, the Fox News producer who filed lawsuits against the network last week that alleged network lawyers coerced her into providing misleading testimony.
Dominion’s potential witness list, which is not final and will surely face legal challenges from Fox’s lawyers, is part of the routine process of haggling over witnesses while both sides prepare for trial.
Dominion previously asked Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis to force Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch and chief executive Lachlan Murdoch to testify at trial, as well as board member Paul Ryan, the former House speaker. Davis has yet to make a decision on which witnesses he might compel to take the stand.
However, in its own court filings, Fox News did suggest it wants to put Scott, Wallace, Hannity, Carlson, Bartiromo, and Baier on the stand as witnesses. Their strategy in possibly calling these witnesses isn’t publicly known. But in past court filings, Fox News has highlighted the fact that Baier said on-air shortly after the 2020 election that there weren’t indications of widespread fraud.
Both Fox News and Dominion previously asked the judge to declare them the outright winner without a trial. The judge has yet to rule on the matter, but most legal experts believe the case will ultimately proceed to a jury trial if the two sides do not reach a settlement. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on April 13.
Will Rupert Murdoch testify?
Dominion previously asked Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis to force Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and chief executive Lachlan Murdoch to testify at trial, as well as board member Paul Ryan, the former House speaker.
Davis has yet to make a decision on which witnesses he might compel to take the stand, but at a hearing Tuesday, he scoffed at some of the excuses Rupert Murdoch might use to avoid in-person testimony.
“Mr. Murdoch has claimed that he’s traveling, and (that it’s) an inconvenience,” Davis said. “But I also have people telling me that he’s hardly infirm and is able to travel around… I think he recently got engaged on St. Patrick’s Day… and he said he looks forward to traveling between his various residences in Montana, New York and London.”
“That doesn’t sound like someone who can’t travel from New York to Wilmington,” Davis added.
Fox previously told the judge it would be a “hardship” for Murdoch to testify in-person, and said Dominion’s bid to compel his testimony should be rejected because it presents an “undue burden” on the 92-year-old media mogul.
“We are not arguing that Mr. Murdoch is infirm or unable to travel,” Fox lawyer Matthew Carter said Tuesday, arguing that Dominion should rely on Murdoch’s “seven-hour-long deposition.”
The Murdochs, top Fox News executives and many of its TV hosts have already sat for lengthy depositions – which revealed most of them didn’t believe the election-rigging claims that were being peddled on-air.
Judge irked by Fox’s ‘gamesmanship’
During Tuesday’s virtual court hearing, Davis became exasperated with some of Fox’s lawyers for what he called legal “gamesmanship.” And he was taken aback when he learned that Fox had objected to every single exhibit that Dominion might want to use at trial.
“If I think you’re just trying to interrupt testimony out of gamesmanship… you may have a problem,” Davis said. “…Be careful, people. Keep your powder dry on this stuff. This isn’t a game. This is a trial, and you’re going to be presenting to a jury.”
The judge said he was “very concerned” about Fox’s “blanket” objection to the exhibits.
A lawyer for Dominion compared Fox’s strategy to “asymmetrical warfare.” Fox News’ lawyers pushed back by saying Dominion had objected to a similar number of their trial exhibits. And Fox has previously argued that Dominion has cherry-picked the exhibits to present a misleading narrative about the network’s actions in 2020.
The exhibits in question likely include many of the internal Fox News emails and text messages that have already played a major role in the case, by exposing how top executives and talent didn’t believe the vote-rigging claims that were being promoted on the network after the 2020 election.
Both sides are also hoping to put on testimony from their handpicked experts who specialize in election statistics, the security of voting machines, journalism ethics, the impact of disinformation in public discourse, and more.
Fox News said it has journalism experts who will testify that its 2020 election coverage “did not depart from professional standards,” and that its election security experts can testify that “Dominion’s systems are riddled with security problems and vulnerabilities,” according to court filings.
Dominion said in court filings that its experts will describe how it would’ve been literally “impossible” for its software to flip millions of votes from Trump to Biden, which is precisely what many Fox hosts and guests suggested it did in 2020.
Fox News has maintained that it is “proud” of its 2020 coverage and has said Dominion’s lawsuit could weaken the First Amendment. Fox News has argued that it can’t be held liable for airing inherently newsworthy allegations from public figures that Dominion rigged the 2020 election, even if those claims were false. Fox News has also argued that Dominion’s request for $1.6 billion in damages is a wildly inflated figure, citing the company’s previous valuations.
“Dominion’s needlessly expansive live witness list is yet another attempt to generate headlines and distract from the many shortcomings of its case,” a Fox spokesperson said.
Fox Corporation, the right-wing channel’s parent company, was also named in the lawsuit. Fox Corporation has argued that Dominion overstated its role in Fox News’ editorial coverage of the 2020 election and asked to be dropped from the lawsuit – but the judge let the case move forward.