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Fox News, Dominion Voting Systems reach lawsuit settlement in high-stakes defamation case

Last minute settlement reached in Fox News trial
Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems reach last minute settlement 03:24

Wilmington, Delaware — Dominion Voting Systems and Fox News have reached a deal to resolve the $1.6 billion defamation case the electronic voting company brought against the cable news giant over unfounded accusations broadcast on its air that Dominion helped rig the 2020 presidential election against former President Donald Trump.

Dominion attorneys told reporters that Fox would pay $787.5 million to settle the lawsuit soon after Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis announced that the "case has been resolved." Davis had brought the jury and 12 alternates back into the courtroom following a lengthy break in proceedings.

"The truth matters," Dominion attorney Justin Nelson told reporters outside the courthouse after the judge announced the matter had been resolved. "Lies have consequences."

Fox News said it is "pleased" to have settled its dispute with Dominion.

"We acknowledge the Court's rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false," the network said in a statement. "This settlement reflects FOX's continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues."

Dominion CEO John Poulos called the settlement "historic" and thanked election officials, saying in a statement "without them there is no democracy."

"Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion that caused enormous damage to my Company, our employees, and our customers. Nothing can ever make up for that," Poulos said. "Throughout this process, we have sought accountability and believe the evidence brought to light through this case underscores the consequences of spreading and endorsing lies. Truthful reporting in the media is essential to our democracy."

Fox's lawyers did not speak to reporters after the proceedings concluded. Dominion's lawyers did not divulge whether they will receive a retraction from the network of the false statements it aired. There is no requirement for an on-air apology as part of the settlement, a Dominion representative and second source close to the company told CBS News.

A spokesperson for the voting technology company said in a statement that, "An apology is about accountability, and today Dominion held Fox accountable. Fox paid a historic settlement and issued a statement acknowledging that the statements about Dominion were false."

Nelson told reporters the outcome represents "accountability."

"Today represents a ringing endorsement for truth and for democracy," he said.

Any additional details of the settlement are unclear, and the case's resolution came on the first day of the trial in Delaware Superior Court. A 12-member jury and the alternates were seated in the morning and sworn in, after which lawyers for the two sides were set to deliver opening statements Tuesday afternoon. The settlement brings an end to what was expected to be a six-week trial. 

The start of the trial had already been delayed by one day, from Monday to Tuesday.

The agreement marks the culmination of Dominion's two-year lawsuit against Fox News and its parent company Fox Corporation over false claims about the integrity of the 2020 election and spares the network's top stars and Murdoch from having to take the stand.

The electronic voting company alleged Fox defamed it by broadcasting unfounded allegations that Dominion had rigged the election against Trump and its software manipulated vote counts. The electronic voting company sought $1.6 billion in damages.

Evidence was expected to be voluminous at the trial, after filings from Dominion's and Fox's legal teams indicated there would be over 7,000 and more than 5,000 exhibits, respectively. Before the trial, reams of text messages and internal emails from Fox's hosts, producers and executives were made public as part of the lawsuit, and many showed the network's best-known stars didn't believe the claims that were being pushed by the former president and his allies. 

The communications also provided a behind-the-scenes look at the atmosphere inside Fox after the network was the first to call Arizona for Joe Biden on election night. The move led viewers to change the channel from Fox to rival networks amid pushback from Trump and his campaign, setting off alarm bells within the cable giant.

Dominion pointed to 20 statements — many made by conservative lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani — aired on shows hosted by Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity or on Twitter that the voting equipment and software company argues were defamatory.

The trial was expected to be a high-stakes test of the boundaries of the First Amendment, as Fox's lawyers argued the claims it aired about Dominion were newsworthy, because Trump's top allies and lawyers had made the statements, and also because of when the statements were made and what they concerned. Fox also claimed that the broadcasts are constitutionally protected.

But in an opinion published in late March, Davis pushed back against several of Fox's defenses, calling it "oxymoronic" to call the challenged 20 statements opinions while also asserting they were newsworthy allegations. Davis, who reviewed all 20 broadcasts where the falsehoods about Dominion were made, said in his opinion that it's "crystal clear" that none of the statements relating to the electronic voting company are true.

He also rebuked Fox's attorneys during a pre-trial conference last week after Dominion alleged the cable news giant had withheld evidence and information. A lawyer for Fox apologized to Davis in a letter Friday, writing the network's legal team is "committed to clear and full communication with the Court moving forward."

It's unclear whether Fox and Dominion had discussed a potential settlement earlier in the case, but the two sides previously met late last year for court-ordered mediation and did not immediately reach an agreement. 

While the settlement resolves the dispute between Fox and Dominion, the network is facing another defamation lawsuit from Smartmatic, a voting machine company, over unfounded claims that it was part of a campaign to rig the election in favor of Mr. Biden. 

Smartmatic filed its lawsuit in New York state court in February 2021 and is seeking $2.7 billion.

"Dominion's litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox's disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest," J. Erik Connolly, the company's lawyer said, in a statement. "Smartmatic remains committed to clearing its name, recouping the significant damage done to the company in more than 50 countries, and holding Fox accountable for undermining democracy."

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