CNN — Dominion Voting Systems can force Fox Corporation executives Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch to testify on the witness stand at this month’s scheduled defamation trial, a Delaware judge said Wednesday. Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis said at a hearing that if Dominion subpoenas the Murdochs to testify in-person, he would not quash those subpoenas, and the Murdochs would need to show up to the courthouse.
Dominion has sued Fox News for defamation, and says it was defamed by the right-wing network when Fox hosts and guests claimed in 2020 that its voting systems illegally rigged the election. “They are relevant to the case… if Dominion wants to bring them live, they need to issue a trial subpoena, and I would not quash it,” Davis said.
He added that that “it would be my discretion that they come” to testify in-person at the trial, which is scheduled to begin later this month in Wilmington, Delaware. “Both parties have made these witnesses very relevant,” Davis added. This outcome is a blow to Fox, which tried to block Dominion from forcing the Murdochs onto the witness stand.
The judge signaled at previous hearings that he was skeptical of Fox’s claims that their testimony wasn’t necessary. The judge’s comments Wednesday further raise the stakes for Fox in the closely watched case, which is set to go to trial this month, barring a last-minute settlement. Fox News denies wrongdoing, maintains that it is “proud” of its 2020 election coverage, and says the lawsuit is a meritless assault against the First Amendment.
The right-wing network has also said Dominion’s request for $1.6 billion in damages is a wildly overblown figure that was designed to get headlines. Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son, CEO Lachlan Murdoch, previously gave lengthy depositions in the case, which revolves around Fox’s decision in late 2020 to repeatedly promote false claims that the election was rigged against then-President Donald Trump. In his sworn deposition for the case, Rupert Murdoch conceded that several of his top hosts endorsed election lies on the air that he knew were false.
This is a key point that gets to the question of “actual malice” and Fox’s potential legal liability. Despite what appeared on air, Rupert Murdoch and other top Fox figures privately criticized the Trump camp in late 2020 for pushing claims of election fraud. It was “really bad” that Rudy Giuliani was advising Trump, Rupert Murdoch wrote in an email that was revealed in court filings. In a statement, a spokesperson for Fox Corporation hit back at Dominion for wanting to call the Murdochs to the stand, reiterating the company’s previous assertions that the Murdoch’s were not directly involved in the broadcasts at the heart of the litigation. “Dominion clearly wants to continue generating misleading stories from their friends in the media to distract from their weak case,” the spokesperson said.
“Demanding witnesses who had nothing to do with the challenged broadcasts is just the latest example of their political crusade in search of a financial windfall.”