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Fox asks judge to bar references to January 6 attack at Dominion trial

<i>Ted Shaffrey/AP</i><br/>Fox asked a judge in court filings made public on April 6 to prohibit references to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol
Ted Shaffrey/AP
Fox asked a judge in court filings made public on April 6 to prohibit references to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol

By Oliver Darcy, Marshall Cohen and Liam Reilly, CNN

Fox asked a judge in court filings made public Thursday to prohibit references to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, as well as threats directed at employees of Dominion Voting Systems, when the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit it faces from the election technology company goes to trial later this month.

“Dominion’s defamation claim has nothing to do with the Capitol riot,” Fox’s lawyers argued in the court filings. “And any reference to the Capitol riot will only unfairly prejudice the jury against Fox, inflame passions, prevent a fair trial, and taint any resulting verdict.”

Fox added that threats against Dominion employees “were horrific and absolutely inexcusable.” But the company said “allowing Dominion to discuss specific threats and their effect on employees is virtually guaranteed to arouse the jury’s sympathy and provoke a desire to punish Fox for the actions of unrelated third parties.”

The documents made public Thursday are “motions in limine,” which are pretrial efforts by both sides to block certain evidence and arguments from being used during the trial. These motions are common in criminal and civil proceedings. Depending on how the judge rules, the outcome of these motions could significantly shape the trial, potentially giving one side an advantage.

Both Fox and Dominion filed a slew of these pretrial motions last month, but they were under seal. They filed public versions of the documents on Thursday, in accordance with an order from the judge. Media outlets had pressed the judge for more transparency, and to unseal these and other documents.

In the documents, Fox additionally asked the judge to bar references to the company’s financial information and the state of mind of its employees, arguing both were irrelevant to the case.

Dominion strongly disagreed with all of Fox’s requests, filing motions of opposition against them.

Dominion’s lawyers argued that the attack on the U.S. Capitol “is central to almost every element of this case, and the Court should reject Fox’s motion in its entirety.”

Dominion also argued that references to threats its employees faced in the aftermath of the 2020 are relevant to the case, contending in court filings that it is “evidence that Fox’s lies destroyed Dominion’s reputation and enterprise value.”

Dominion’s lawyers said that “people are unlikely to want to work for, contract with, or acquire a business that is besieged by death threats and harassment.”

“It also became incredibly difficult for Dominion to retain and win business because would-be customers themselves are inundated with death threats, harassment, and protests related to Dominion,” Dominion’s lawyers added.

The judge said Wednesday that he’ll address these motions next week, at an in-person hearing on Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware. He might rule on the motions during that hearing, or he could issue written opinions later on. The judge said at a Wednesday hearing related to jury questions that he does not “see January 6 as relevant in this case,” perhaps signaling how he could rule on Fox’s motion in limine.

Dominion, for its part, moved to block Fox News from bringing up emails from one of its top officials who wrote in October 2020 that “our s**t is just riddled with bugs,” according to court filings made public Thursday.

Fox News has never argued in court that Dominion rigged the 2020 election, but its lawyers have repeatedly made the point that there are longstanding and bipartisan security concerns about its voting machines.

“Fox’s motions attempt to narrow Dominion’s kitchen sink legal approach and return focus to the core issues,” a Fox News spokesperson said in a Thursday statement, “including documents that show that Dominion’s then director of product strategy & security criticized its software by stating ‘our s*** is just riddled with bugs’ and their CEO saying, ‘no customer cares about the media.’ Such internal admissions by Dominion directly contradict their case, which is why they continue to push distracting and irrelevant materials in their quest for a payday.”

A trial is scheduled to begin April 17, unless the parties reach a last-minute settlement. Fox News has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, maintained it is “proud” of its 2020 election coverage, and argued that Dominion’s lawsuit represents a threat to the First Amendment.

While Fox’s legal liability will be decided at trial, the case has already battered Fox’s reputation.

Incriminating texts and emails have shown how Fox executives, hosts and producers didn’t believe the claims the network was peddling about Dominion. These revelations drove a dagger through the idea that Fox News is anything but a partisan GOP operation focused on ratings — not journalism.

The lawsuit is seen as one of the most consequential defamation cases in recent memory. Fox has argued that a loss will eviscerate press freedoms, and many scholars agree that the bar should remain high to prove defamation. Other analysts have said holding Fox accountable for knowingly airing lies won’t pose a threat to objective journalists who would never do that in the first place.

The case has elicited a mountain of evidence exposing Fox News as a right-wing profit machine lacking the most basic journalistic ethics — and willing to promote unhinged election conspiracy theories to preserve its lucrative business.

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