April 19, 2024

(Update with more details) The start of the Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation trail against Fox News over false election claims that was to start Monday has now been delayed until Tuesday.

The delay immediately triggered speculation that some sort of settlement talks are the works, as is not unusual at the last minute before high stakes and big bucks litigation heads to trial. A well informed legal source said that there were talks but no deal, and that the situation remains fluid.

“The Court has decided to continue the start of the trial, including jury selection, until Tuesday, April 18, 2023 at 9:00 a.m.,” Judge Eric M. Davis said late Sunday in a statement. “I will make such an announcement tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. in Courtroom 7E.”

A spokesperson for Dominion declined comment, and a spokesperson for Fox News did not immediately return a request for comment. Having said that a settlement also would not be unusual for the network and parent Fox Corp., which is also a defendant in the case.

Just last week, Fox News settled a defamation lawsuit brought by Venezuelan businessman Majed Khalil, who sued the network over a Lou Dobbs broadcast and tweet linking him to election rigging. Rupert Murdoch’s media empire also settled litigation stemming from the British phone hacking scandal a decade ago.

A jury in the Dominion case was to be selected by the end of last week, but Judge Davis later on Thursday pushed the final phase of that process to Monday.

Dominion sued Fox News and later its parent company, Fox Corp., claiming that its hosts and guests amplified false claims that the election systems company was involved in rigging the results of the 2020 presidential election. Fox News contends it was merely covering the newsworthy allegations being made by Donald Trump.

Given the stakes, some had dubbed the case the “defamation trial of the century,” with the prospect that Murdoch will be compelled to testify live, while a host of Fox News personalities including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham are on the witness list.

Fox also has seen some legal setbacks in the past week.

In a pre-trial hearing, Davis made it clear that he would not allow Fox to use one of its made defenses, that the newsworthiness of Trump’s election claims absolved it of liability for defamation. The judge also was upset with Fox’s legal team after they only recently disclosed to him that Murdoch was a director not just of Fox Corp., the network’s parent company, but of Fox News. Davis said that he planned to point a special master to investigate whether Fox attorneys withheld evidence at key points of the discovery process. An attorney for Fox filed a letter with the court apologizing to the judge.

In a summary judgment ruling, the judge also ruled that it was “crystal clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true.” And he also rejected Fox’s argument that it was shielded from liability due to a “neutral” report privilege as well as for coverage of official proceedings.

Sources have said that Fox has previously pursued a settlement with Dominion, but the voting software company has rejected the overtures.