Lawyers for Fox News were met with skepticism Tuesday when they argued that Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch should be excused from testifying in court as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against the company.
At a hearing in Delaware Superior Court, Judge Eric Davis said he’d received a letter from Fox saying it would be an “inconvenience” for Murdoch, 92, to provide testimony in the courtroom.
Murdoch, the judge said, is “hardly infirm.” The judge said that after receiving the letter he was told that Murdoch had just gotten engaged and was discussing plans to travel more in the coming years — an apparent reference to an interview the recently divorced media mogul gave to his New York Post last week, where he announced his engagement to Ann Lesley Smith, 66. The article said the couple planned to spend their time between California, the United Kingdom, Montana and New York.
“That doesn’t sound like someone who can’t go from New York to Wilmington,” the judge said.
Fox lawyer Matthew Carter told the judge he was concerned there had been a “miscommunication” about their objection to Murdoch’s testimony.
“We are not arguing he’s infirm or incapable of travel,” Carter said. “Our view is in light of his seven hour deposition, we thought it’s not necessary for him to travel” to testify live.
The judge did not rule on whether Murdoch will be required to testify in person for the trial, which is slated to begin on April 17 and last about six weeks.
Dominion is suing Fox News and Fox Corp., arguing it was severely damaged by claims put forward by Fox hosts and guests suggesting the voting machine company “rigged” the 2020 election in favor of Joe Biden.
In a deposition earlier this year, Murdoch said the bogus claims being pushed by Donald Trump and his allies were “damaging” to the country and had been “endorsed” by some Fox hosts.
Dominion contends Murdoch had the power to rein in the hosts but did not. In their court filings, Fox noted that Murdoch testified he was overseas for much of the time period covered in the lawsuit, and that he never discussed Dominion with any of the network’s hosts.
In a statement Tuesday, Fox said “Dominion’s needlessly expansive live witness list is yet another attempt to generate headlines and distract from the many shortcomings of its case. Ultimately, this case is about the First Amendment protections of the media’s absolute right to cover the news.”
Proposed witness lists were made public in a court filing Tuesday.
In addition to Murdoch, Dominion wants to question Murdoch’s son Lachlan, who’s Fox Corp.’s CEO, and several Fox hosts and personalities, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro and Maria Bartiromo.
Many of those same names are on Fox’s proposed witness list, but the company is seeking to use the existing videotaped depositions for the Murdochs, Ingraham and dozens of other witnesses.
Jane C. Timm contributed.