Analysis of First Amendment in Defamation Lawsuit Against Alex Jones

A trial is underway in the defamation lawsuit brought against conspiracy theorist and media personality, Alex Jones. The trial, which is taking place in Austin, TX, has drawn national attention and extensive media coverage.

As the trial continues, the Associated Press recently published a story that examines how the First Amendment and free speech factor into Alex Jones’ case. Attorney Barry N. Covert spoke with the Associated Press’ Legal Affairs Writer, Michael Tarm, to provide legal analysis for this story.

The defamation lawsuit was brought against Alex Jones by parents of one of the student victims in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Alex Jones made comments that the shooting was a hoax, which prompted the defamation lawsuit.

In its “EXPLAINER” article, the Associated Press examines how this defamation case relates to the First Amendment, by addressing several questions, including:

  • Are all defamation lawsuits First Amendment cases?;
  • Have attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendant referred to the First Amendment during this trial?;
  • What are key elements of “defamation”?;
  • Is it easier for non-public figures to prove defamation?;
  • Can First Amendment issues influence this trial’s outcome?; and
  • How might the Supreme Court rule on this case if there is an appeal?

The AP article explains that trials of this nature traditionally ask jurors to address two questions. The first question is whether or not the speech in question qualifies as unprotected defamation. If the answer to the first question is “yes”, then jurors are asked to address a second question regarding the extent of damages. Media reports indicate that in this trial, the first question was largely skipped.

Alex Jones refused to comply with orders to hand over critical evidence for the trial. As a result, the judge in the case entered a default judgement, which declarded the plaintiffs as winners before the trial even began. When asked about Jones’ decision not to hand over evidence, attorney Barry Covert stated “It is reasonable to presume that (Jones) and his team did not think they had a viable defense … or they would have complied.”

Mr. Covert was also asked what may have happened if Alex Jones did comply with the order to turn over evidence.  He stated “I wouldn’t discount the possibility Jones could have prevailed.” Barry Covert continued by saying “Trying to speculate what a jury would find is always a fool’s errand.”

To read the AP’s full article, including comments from Barry N. Covert, click on any of the following links: