Alex Jones Got What He Deserved, Part 2

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I received a couple of critical emails regarding my October 17 article “Alex Jones Got What He Deserved ,” which raised some important points about the Alex Jones case that I wish to address.

The first email stated:

First off the fines he received were like if Jones killed somebody. The $965 million dollar fine even the $50 million dollar fine is basically the death penalty. It is also unconstitutional because it clearly violates 8th amendment. He cleared the air about his stance on Sandy Hook and admitted he was wrong, that alone damages his reputation as a journalist, so Jones shouldn’t’ be sued for defamation, and the fines should be drastically reduced. Also there is no proof that Jones sent his supporters to harass the parents of the dead children. It’s a kangaroo trial, the fines are unlawful and unconstitutional. It is a witch hunt to attack anybody who is a conspiracy theorist.

The second email asserted that Jones had been denied the right to introduce relevant evidence at the Connecticut trial. 

Let’s carefully examine these two critiques.

There have been two trials, one in Connecticut and one in Texas. The plaintiffs in both cases were families who lost children in the Sandy Hook massacre. The plaintiffs in both cases alleged that Jones had defamed them by falsely alleging that they had made up the story about the massacre as part of a supposed conspiracy in support of gun control. Jones repeatedly made the claim on his Internet show. The claim was believed to be true by his loyal followers, who proceeded to inflict all sorts of calumny on the plaintiffs. 

In the Connecticut case, the plaintiffs also sued for a tort that has been long established in the law called “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” They also sued Jones under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. 

Under Connecticut law, plaintiffs in libel and slander cases are entitled to compensatory damages as well as punitive damages. But the punitive damages are limited to recovery of attorney’s fees. For claims under the Unfair Trade Practices Act, there is no such limit on punitive damages. 

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The Texas jury came back with an award of compensatory damages of $4.1 million and then assessed punitive damages of $45.2 million. It is not clear yet whether the punitive damages will be upheld under Texas law, which limits the amount of punitive damages that can be recovered.

The Connecticut jury came back with an award of $965 million for the several families who had sued Jones. These were entirely for compensatory damages. The largest award for an individual plaintiff was $120 million. The court as yet to decide the matter of punitive damages under the Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Let’s now address the above-described critiques.

First of all, Jones was not fined in either the Texas case or the Connecticut case. Moreover, the jury awards do not violate the 8th Amendment. That’s because both cases are civil cases, not criminal cases. Fines are imposed in criminal cases, and the 8th Amendment applies to criminal cases. This was a civil case.

Moreover, the fact that a defendant might admit that he was wrong does not mitigate the amount of compensatory damages that a jury decides to award in a civil case. Compensatory damages are intended to compensate for the damage suffered, not operate as a punishment. In other words, their purpose is to make the plaintiff “whole.” After hearing the evidence and carefully considering it, the jury obviously found that the plaintiffs had suffered an enormous amount of damage as a result of Jones’s behavior, including the large amounts of threats and calumny that flowed from Jones’s defamatory statements. Moreover, it doesn’t matter that Jones didn’t order his followers to do that. What matters is the amount of damages his actions caused.

Moreover, it’s entirely possible that the jury didn’t believe that Jones was genuinely contrite for the suffering that his actions had brought on these families, some of whom had to change homes several times to avoid the threats and calumny that Jones’s followers were inflicting on them. During his testimony in the damage phase of the Connecticut trial, Jones told the jury that he was “done apologizing” for his Sandy Hook statements.

With respect to the claim that Jones wasn’t allowed to introduce relevant evidence at trial, his biggest argument was that he wasn’t permitted to talk about his free-speech rights that are guaranteed by the First Amendment. 

But the judge was correct in her evidentiary ruling. It is long-settled law that free speech does not encompass the right to issue defamatory statements about others. Everyone knows that that is the law. Jones might not agree with the law, but that is quite irrelevant in a libel and slander case. All that is relevant in a libel and slander case is what the law is. And the law has been established for centuries that free speech does not entitle people to defame others. It is inconceivable that Jones did not know that principle of the law. But even if he didn’t, ignorance of the law is no excuse. 

Secondly, the judge had already issued a default judgment against Jones. That was because Jones refused to comply with long-settled rules of pretrial discovery by refusing to turn over certain documents and records. Even after the judge ordered Jones to comply, he still refused to do so. When a party to a civil lawsuit refuses to comply with the rules of procedure and with court orders, the judge has the authority to impose sanctions. That’s what the judge did by entering a default judgment against Jones. Such being the case, Jones’s wish to talk about free-speech rights became doubly irrelevant during the damage phase of the case. 

Yes, I know that there are libertarians who oppose libel and slander laws. They say that they are inappropriate because they don’t involve the initiation of force. That’s why some libertarians also see nothing wrong when people commit fraud against others. They say that fraud, like libel and slander, does not involve the initiation of force and, therefore, should not be actionable. Some libertarians also say the same thing about unethical conduct, such as when a lawyer represents both sides to a legal dispute or takes money under the table from the other side. They say that because an unethical conflict of interest doesn’t involve the initiation of force, it shouldn’t be actionable.

I couldn’t disagree more with such libertarians. I believe that libertarianism involves a condemnation of more than just those actions that involve the initiation of force. I believe it also encompasses a condemnation of fraud, unethical conduct, and false and defamatory statements. 

Suppose John accuses Peter of molesting a child. John knows that the allegation is false. His only goal is to inflict harm on Peter. The allegation is published in the mainstream press. Even though Peter denies it, people believe John because he is the president of a local company while Peter is a local janitor. Peter gets fired from his job and is unable to find other employment. 

The anti-defamation libertarians would say, “Tough luck for Peter, but John has every right to do what he has done under principles of free speech.” I say no. I say Peter has the right to sue John for compensatory damages to make himself whole. And I also say that Peter has the right to ask a jury to mulct John with punitive damages to punish him and to deter others from doing the same.

In any event, Jones has the right to appeal the judgments in both cases and ask the appellate courts to declare that libel and slander laws should be declared unconstitutional or invalid under principles of free speech. He has the right to employ the same arguments that anti-defamation libertarians make. I don’t think he will get to first base. I think the appellate courts will instead continue to uphold the centuries of jurisprudence regarding libel and slander. But he certainly has the right to make the arguments.

Let’s address the “kangaroo court” allegation. 

Let’s first define what we mean by kangaroo court. It’s a court where the outcome is pre-ordained. For a good example of a kangaroo court, we need go no further than the Pentagon’s and CIA’s “judicial” system at Guantanamo Bay. That’s a kangaroo court in its purest form. The trial is by military tribunal, not by jury. The military judges answer to their superiors, including the president. There is no possibility that they will issue a verdict different from the one that their superiors and the president want. 

In fact, the Gitmo system is revealing because it says everything about the right-wing support we see for what Alex Jones did to those families who lost children in the Sandy Hook massacre. How many times have right-wingers condemned the kangaroo system at Gitmo? How many times have they called for its termination? How many articles, podcasts, and speeches have they issued in the last 20 years condemning the Pentagon and the CIA for what they have done at Gitmo?

I’d say rarely, if ever. That’s because right-wingers love the Pentagon and the CIA. That’s why you will rarely, if ever, see them devoting their articles, podcasts, and speeches to the dismantling of the Pentagon and the CIA and the restoration of America’s limited-government republic, as we have long done here at FFF. For them, the Pentagon and the CIA are their untouchable gods. 

That’s also why right-wingers hate the jury system, which I believe is one of the greatest judicial gifts our American ancestors bequeathed to us, both in criminal cases and civil cases. Right-wingers would much rather have a system in which right-wing judges or tribunals decide the guilt or innocence of people in criminal cases and decide factual disputes in civil cases. 

That’s why they are condemning those jury verdicts against Jones in both Texas and Connecticut. As far as they are concerned, jury trials are “kangaroo courts.” But that’s ridiculous. There is no way that the jury verdicts in either case were preordained or that the juries were involved in some sort of conspiracy to suppress “free speech.” Remember: Those two jury verdicts against Jones in Texas and Connecticut were entirely independent of each other. 

The jury system certainly isn’t perfect but my experience has been that 12 regular people called at random from the community to resolve a criminal or civil case have a better sense of justice than any judge or tribunal, especially some crooked and corrupt right-wing judge or tribunal that right-wingers might cherish. 

Moreover, any notion that both the Texas jury and the Connecticut jury got together in some sort of conspiracy to put it to Alex Jones and his right-wing supporters is as ludicrous as Jones’s fake and false conspiracy theory regarding the families who lost children in the Sandy Hook massacre. 

Acting independently, the juries in both cases found that Jones committed wrongs against innocent families who had lost children in the Sandy Hook massacre. Why shouldn’t Jones be held responsible for his actions? Isn’t a favorite mantra of right-wingers “With freedom comes responsibility”? Don’t they often chide liberals for not taking “personal responsibility” for their actions? Why shouldn’t Jones be held responsible for his wrongful actions? Why should he be given immunity from responsibility simply because he is a right-winger and a conspiracy theorist?

The post Alex Jones Got What He Deserved, Part 2 appeared first on The Future of Freedom Foundation.

* This article was originally published here


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