Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems Inc. are accelerating settlement talks on the eve of trial in the voting machine maker’s $1.6 billion defamation suit against the conservative news network, according to people familiar with the matter.
A Sunday night statement by Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis of a one-day delay to the trial was aimed at giving the parties more time to possibly reach a deal, the people said. Final jury selection and opening arguments scheduled for Monday were postponed to Tuesday.
At a brief hearing Monday morning to formally announce the postponement, Davis offered no explanation other than to say such delays aren’t unusual in long trials. Amid reporters hoping for news, the judge noted that it wasn’t “a press conference,” adding, “I don’t do that.”
Brian Nick, a spokesman for New York-based Fox, and Dominion spokesperson Claire Bischoff declined to comment.
Dominion was falsely accused by a number of guests on Fox News shows of participating in a conspiracy to rig the 2020 election for Joe Biden and against Donald Trump.
Sporadic settlement talks had been ongoing — the parties met with a mediator in December but failed to reach a deal. But the conversations grew more serious over the weekend, the people said, as Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch readied himself to testify in the case. The billionaire was expected to be one of the first witnesses called to stand, which might have been as soon as Monday afternoon.
A settlement would spare the 92-year-old Murdoch from having to defend the network’s decisions to allow hosts and guests to make false claims about the Dominion and the election, despite his own stated belief that no election fraud took place.
The conspiracy theory — pushed by former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell and longtime Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, among others — held that Dominion flipped millions of votes away from Trump as part of a vast plot that included foreign hackers, corrupt Democratic election workers and malignant software tied to the deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.
Earlier this month, Fox News and former on-air host Lou Dobbs settled a defamation suit brought by a Venezuelan businessman who was falsely accused on-air of being a central player in the conspiracy theory. Fox didn’t reveal details of the confidential accord with Majed Khalil, which avoided another potentially embarrassing trial.
Other network luminaries slated to testify in the case include Murdoch’s son, Lachlan, Fox Corp.’s chief executive officer, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and network hosts Maria Bartiromo and Tucker Carlson. The trial is slated to last six weeks.
Fox has argued that the network was reporting on issues tied to a story of national importance and that its actions are protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of press freedom.
But in a written ruling last month, Davis said the network isn’t automatically protected from spreading false facts. “The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that is CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” the judge wrote March 31.
The case is Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News Network LLC, N21C-03-257, Delaware Superior Court (Wilmington).