HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Infowars host Alex Jones faces stiffer penalties over the sizable amount he already owes for spreading conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. , as the punitive damages phase began Friday in a trial. submitted by the families of the victims.
A Connecticut jury last month ordered Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, to pay $965 million to Sandy Hook families for the harm they suffered after convincing his audience that the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people was a hoax perpetrated by “crisis actors”.
The jury also said punitive damages should be awarded. That amount, which will be determined by Judge Barbara Bellis after Friday’s hearing and another on Monday, would be in addition to the compensatory damages already ordered.
Friday’s hearing, which focused only on plaintiffs’ legal fees and was held by videoconference, suggested a big additional sentence was possible for Jones.
The two sides reached an agreement earlier this week that the families’ contract with their lawyers calls for them to receive one-third of the amount of compensatory damages, or nearly $322 million. If the judge approves punitive damages equal to legal fees, that would increase what Jones and his company would have to pay the families to $1.29 billion.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys, in court filings, suggested punitive damages under the law could total $2.75 trillion based on a hypothetical calculation, but did not ask to specific amount.
“Justice demands that the Court award punitive damages, punish and deter this misconduct,” attorneys Alinor Sterling, Christopher Mattei and Joshua Koskoff wrote in a motion. “Only a historic-sized punitive damages assessment will serve these purposes.”
Jones’ lawyer, Norm Pattis, asked the judge not to award punitive damages under the Unfair Trade Practices Act.
“Few living defendants could pay damages of this amount,” Pattis wrote in a memoir. “Indeed, most defendants would be pushed into bankruptcy, their livelihoods destroyed and their future turned into the bleak prospect of a judgment debtor struggling for decades with a debt that cannot be satisfied. thing that a punishment would be unjust.
Jones was found liable last year for damages to relatives of eight victims and an FBI agent who responded to the school, for defamation, infliction of emotional distress and violation of Connecticut’s unfair trade practices law. .
On Monday, the judge will hear a debate about damages under the Unfair Trade Practices Act. Although punitive damages are generally limited to attorneys’ fees for defamation and infliction of emotional distress, there are no such limits for punitive damages under this law.
All 15 plaintiffs testified emotionally during the trial, describing how they were threatened and harassed for years by people who believe the shooting didn’t happen.
Strangers showed up at some of their homes and confronted some of them in public. People threw abusive comments at them on social media and in emails. And some said they had received death and rape threats.
In a calculation in a plaintiffs’ court filing, they said Jones’ comments about Sandy Hook were viewed approximately 550 million times on his social media accounts and Infowars from 2012 to 2018. They said that this had resulted in 550 million unfair trade violations. Practices Act.
“If each of the 550 million violations were valued at the legal maximum of $5,000, the total civil penalty would be $2,750,000,000,000 ($2.75 trillion),” their attorneys wrote.
They also said that punitive damages for violations of unfair trade practices law are typically several times greater than compensatory damages.
Jones said on his Infowars show that it doesn’t matter how much damages are due because he doesn’t have $2 million to his name and he wouldn’t be able to pay the full amounts.
This contradicts testimony at a similar trial in Texas in August, when a jury ordered Jones to pay nearly $50 million to the parents of one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook shooting because of his lies about the massacre.
A forensic economist testified that Jones and Free Speech Systems, the parent company of Infowars, have a combined net worth of up to $270 million, which Jones disputes. Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy amid the trial in Texas, while a third hoax conspiracy trial is scheduled for later this year.
Jones has vowed to appeal all verdicts against him regarding Sandy Hook.