(AP) HARTFORD, Connecticut The punitive damages portion of the case brought by the relatives of the victims started on Friday, and Infowars presenter Alex Jones might face more severe penalties on top of the enormous sum he already owes for disseminating conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.
After convincing his audience that the 2012 tragedy that left 26 people dead was a hoax committed by crisis actors,” a Connecticut jury this month ordered Jones and his organisation, Free Speech Systems, to pay $965 million to the Sandy Hook families for the trauma they endured.
Additionally, the jury ruled that punitive damages should be given. Following the court hearings on Friday and Monday, Judge Barbara Bellis will decide how much to add to the compensatory damages already imposed.
A significant additional punishment for Jones may be possible, according to the Friday hearing, which was held via video conference and was only about the plaintiffs’ legal fees.
The families’ contract with their attorneys asks for them to receive one-third of the compensatory damages amount, or around $322 million, according to an agreement signed by both parties earlier this week. The sum that Jones and his firm would have to pay the families would grow to $1.29 billion if the judge grants punitive damages in the amount of the legal costs.
In court documents, the plaintiffs’ attorneys suggested that punitive damages under the act might total $2.75 trillion based on one fictitious calculation, but they have not requested a specific sum.
Ordered to pay $965 million to Sandy Hook family is Alex Jones
Justice demands that the court award, punish, and discourage this heinous conduct with punitive damages, according to a request filed by attorneys Alinor Sterling, Christopher Mattei, and Joshua Koskoff. “Only a historic-scale punitive damages assessment will accomplish those aims.”
Jones’ attorney, Norm Pattis, has pleaded with the judge to refrain from using the Unfair Trade Practices Act’s punitive damages provision.
Few living defendants could afford to pay damages in this amount, Pattis noted in a brief. In fact, the majority of defendants would face the terrible possibility of becoming a judgement debtor burdened for decades with a debt that cannot be repaid, having their livelihood decimated, and being forced into bankruptcy. It would be unfair to view this as anything other than a penalty.
The judge will hear arguments concerning damages under the Unfair Trade Practices Act on Monday. There are no such limitations on punitive damages under that legislation, despite the fact that attorneys’ costs for defamation and infliction of emotional distress constitute the standard cap on punitive damages.
During the trial, each of the 15 plaintiffs delivered moving evidence about how they had endured years of harassment and threats from those who thought the shooting hadn’t taken place.
Some of their houses were visited by strangers, and some of them were accosted in public. They received abusive letters and remarks on social media. And several said they got rape and murder threats.
According to Sandy Hook’s attorney, the Jan. 6 panel wants access to Alex Jones’ texts.
According to a computation in a plaintiffs’ court filing, from 2012 to 2018, Jones’ and Infowars’ social media accounts had an estimated 550 million views of their remarks concerning Sandy Hook. That amounted to 550 million infractions of the Unfair Trade Practices Act, they said.
According to their attorneys, the total civil penalty would be $2,750,000,000,000 ($2.75 trillion) if the $5,000 statutory maximum were applied to each of the 550 million violations.
They said that punitive damages are sometimes multiplied by many times more than compensatory damages for violations of the unfair commercial practises legislation.
No matter how much money is awarded in damages, Jones has stated on his Infowars programme that he won’t be able to pay it all since he doesn’t have $2 million to his name.
That ran counter to testimony given at a related trial in Texas in August, when a jury sentenced Jones to pay almost $50 million to the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim because of his fabrications of the atrocity.
Jones argues the testimony of a forensic economist that he and Free Speech Systems, the parent business of Infowars, have a combined net worth of up to $270 million. While the Texas trial was still ongoing, Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy, and a third trial on the fake conspiracy is scheduled for the end of the year.
Jones has vowed to challenge every Sandy Hook-related judgement against him.