Lawyers for the Sandy Hook families who won historic defamation damages against the Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones told a federal bankruptcy judge in Houston on Tuesday that Mr. Jones should not be allowed to use his Chapter 11 filing to evade $1 billion-plus verdicts made against him.
The families asked that the judge, Christopher Lopez, order Mr. Jones to pay them the full damage awards, with no possibility of a trial or a forced settlement over a lesser amount — in legal terminology, to make Mr. Jones’s debts to the families “non-dischargeable” through bankruptcy. If the judge rules in the families’ favor, Mr. Jones would likely be working the rest of his life to pay the debt.
Mr. Jones spent years spreading lies that the 2012 shooting that killed 20 first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was a hoax aimed at gun control. Families of 10 victims sued him for defamation, and in trials in Texas and Connecticut were awarded about $1.4 billion in damages. As the cases went to trial, Infowars declared bankruptcy, and Mr. Jones declared personal bankruptcy late last year.
The families have been fighting him in bankruptcy court ever since.
On Tuesday, Mr. Jones’s lawyer, Chris Davis, argued that Mr. Jones did not show malice in an Infowars broadcast made shortly after the shooting, when Mr. Jones falsely accused CNN of staging an interview with Veronique De La Rosa, the mother of Noah Pozner, a 6-year-old who died in the attack.
Much of the hearing focused on whether Mr. Jones acted with “willful and malicious” intent in spreading lies about the families. In bankruptcy law, debts incurred through actions that are deemed “willful and malicious” are exempt from the protections for debtors through the courts.
“His target is the deep state,” not the families, Mr. Davis told the judge, adding that Mr. Jones was raising questions about the official narrative of a national tragedy, as he has for other events. So while he was “reckless,” Mr. Davis said, “the idea that he had a willful and malicious intent is in substantial and factual dispute.”
The families’ lawyers argued that the years Mr. Jones spent falsely claiming the families had staged their own loved ones’ deaths amounted to malicious intent.
“Jones willfully and maliciously injured” them, Avi Moshenberg, a bankruptcy lawyer representing the families who sued Mr. Jones in Texas, said in court on Tuesday.
Although Infowars has estimated revenues of some $70 million a year, Mr. Jones was able to file for Chapter 11 under the more lenient bankruptcy rules of the Small Business Reorganization Act, known as Subchapter V.
Unlike in a traditional Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Subchapter V gives creditors like the Sandy Hook families virtually no say in a restructuring plan, nor can they file a competing plan. They can challenge Mr. Jones’s approach, but an impasse in talks could result in liquidation of the company, putting them in line to collect a fraction of the damages.
A liquidation would end Infowars, but Mr. Jones could be free to start another company just like it.
In their arguments, both sides revisited the original defamation suits, filed in Texas and Connecticut in mid-2018. Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse Lewis died at Sandy Hook, sued Mr. Jones in Texas. The families of eight victims and an F.B.I. agent targeted in Mr. Jones’s false claims sued him in Connecticut.
Mr. Jones lost both lawsuits by default because he repeatedly failed to supply court ordered testimony and records in the run up to the trials. Because he had already been found liable for defamation by default, juries decided solely how much he must pay the families in damages.
Judge Lopez did not say when he would rule. The bankruptcy case has dragged on for eight months, putting on hold a third and final damages trial in a defamation suit filed by Ms. De La Rosa and Leonard Pozner, the father of Noah Pozner. They will take part in a potential settlement with Mr. Jones regardless of whether the damages trial takes place, through an agreement approved by the bankruptcy court.
Emily Steel contributed reporting.
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