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Fox’s Jeanine Pirro Back in the Dock in Election Defamation Case : NPR


Fox News anchor Jeanine Pirro, shown here addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2017, has been placed at the center of a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox by Dominion Voting Systems for false claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

MIKE THEILER/AFP via Getty Images


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MIKE THEILER/AFP via Getty Images


Fox News anchor Jeanine Pirro, shown here addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2017, has been placed at the center of a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox by Dominion Voting Systems for false claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

MIKE THEILER/AFP via Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems is putting Fox News star “Judge Jeanine” Pirro back on the legal bench in her showdown with the network in a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit over unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the 2020 election, according to NPR has learned.

In documents filed Thursday in a Delaware courtroom, the voting technology company explicitly identified Pirro, a former Westchester County district attorney and New York state judge, as a central party to its case. Their filings argue that by questioning Pirro, Dominion can meet the key legal threshold of showing that Fox showed “actual malice” when it aired false claims that the company was seeking to pitch Joe Biden’s race over then-President Donald Trump.

The case is in a pre-trial phase of litigation, where both sides can obtain testimony and documentary evidence from key figures in a process called “discovery.”

“Discovery has revealed that…Fox News anchor Jeanine Pirro helps[ed] spread provably false but devastating lies against Dominion,” the company’s attorneys wrote in legal filings.

Earlier this month, NPR revealed that a Fox producer had warned his colleagues in an email not to put Pirro on the air in the days after the election, saying he was pulling conspiracy theories from extremist websites with ideas conspiratorial to justify Trump’s lies. That was just one example of the vast amount of documents and testimonials that Dominion has acquired.

Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell made false accusations on Pirro’s show

Now, Dominion points to as of November 14, 2020 segment in which Pirro invited Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell to make unsubstantiated claims that were disputed at the time and quickly debunked.

“She not only allowed Mrs. Powell to air such nonsense, she not only amplified it in her Justice with Judge Jeanine program,” Dominion’s attorneys wrote, “[but] Ms. Pirro’s conduct and role in spreading this disinformation are at the core of Dominion’s claims.”

Pirro is not named as a defendant in Dominion’s lawsuit against Fox and its parent company, Fox Corp. Powell and others are being sued by Dominion separately.

Powell evidences, among other claims, that computer codes were overwritten to manipulate Dominion software and that statistical and mathematical votes showed they were switched from Trump to Biden. Those claims and others they made were false. Pirro read Dominion’s denials on the air.

Five days after the segment, the Dominion motion states, Powell appeared at the Republican National Committee headquarters with Trump campaign attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, where they held a news conference making nearly identical accusations. .

In the documents, Dominion’s attorneys write that they had been requesting all relevant communications from Fox for months, but that the network produced several directly relevant texts from Pirro just 13 hours before his statement in late August. The attorneys said that means they can only now question Pirro directly about the trades and are formally asking the presiding judge, Eric M. Davis of the Delaware Superior Court, to compel Pirro to give additional testimony, under oath.

Fox has argued that the false claims were inherently newsworthy.

Fox News declined to comment, as did its lead outside trial attorney, Dan Webb, through a network spokeswoman. In an earlier interview with NPR, Webb said that Fox News was simply covering inherently newsworthy claims by inherently newsworthy people — namely, a sitting president and his attorneys and campaign advisers contesting a presidential election. That newsworthiness, he argued, exists regardless of the accuracy or fairness of the claims.

Fox’s fortunes seemed shaky after the November 2020 election because his investigative team made Fox the first network to project that Biden would win the battleground state of Arizona. That call angered Trump, his campaign and his supporters.

Dominion’s attorneys have argued that Fox knowingly or recklessly allowed its stars to make pervasive and false claims that the company engaged in voter fraud to win back the loyalty of its core audiences because it had begun bleeding viewers to death of Dominion’s competitors. smaller right wing, notably Newsmax and OAN. , after the call from Arizona.

Dominion Seeks Employment Contracts from Fox News Executives and Stars

Court filings reviewed by NPR also show that Dominion is trying to force Fox News to hand over the full employment contracts of 13 top network executives, including Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and Jay Wallace, president and Fox’s executive editor. Others named include Bill Sammon, a top Washington publisher, who stepped down under duress after Arizona’s election screening for Biden; Irena Briganti, the network’s top advertising executive, and other senior producers and news executives.

(Dominion’s motion was filed publicly, then deleted and resubmitted with all names redacted; NPR reviewed the first version of the motion before it was withdrawn from public view. The contracts would be sealed from view of the public).

In response, Fox’s attorneys wrote that “no [of the executives] have made allegedly defamatory comments, appeared on allegedly defamatory programs, or produced allegedly defamatory programs.”

“[Fox] maintains that this order is contrary to law, detrimental to [Fox] and not proportionate to the needs of this case,” Fox’s attorneys wrote.

Dominion is presumably looking to examine how executive compensation and bonuses are constructed, given the sharp drops in ratings at the end of 2020. Dominion still has libel lawsuits pending against the two smaller networks, Giuliani, Powell and pillow entrepreneur Mike Lindell, an avid pro-Trump propagator of baseless election conspiracies.

The judge set a mid-October deadline for all discoveries and depositions to be completed, with some exceptions that could stretch into November.

Trump and Pirro have a close bond. When she was briefly kicked off the air in 2019 for anti-Muslim comments, the then president publicly called for her return. In 2020, she attended his bellicose election night speech and refused to accept the results.

Her weekend show did not air on November 7, 2020, right after the election, but the show reappeared a week later, with the segment featuring Powell, and she repeatedly championed Trump’s cause in the weeks and following months. In January, Pirro was elevated to become a lot of The fiveFox’s popular weeknight political talk show.

She was not alone at Fox in promoting such claims of voter fraud.

A star-studded list of current and former Fox News anchors, including Maria Bartiromo, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, have been deposited in the case. The network announced that former Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs would be leaving Fox the day after another election technology company, Smartmatic, announced its own $2.1 billion defamation lawsuit over similarly false claims. (That trial is pending.) Dobbs also sat down for a statement.

In addition to those of Fox News executives, Dominion has requested to receive the employment contracts of Bartiromo, Carlson, Dobbs, Hannity and Pirro.

Pirro was originally a named defendant in the Smartmatic defamation lawsuit. She was fired from that lawsuit. But she remains at the heart of the Dominion drama, which has a trial date set for next April.

Maddy Lauria contributed to this report.


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