Court orders Alex Jones to pay $100,000 in Sandy Hook legal costs

Jonathan Tilove /
“InfoWars" host Alex Jones arrives at the Travis County Courthouse in April 2017. [Tamir Kalifa/American-Statesman]

A Travis County judge has ordered Austin-based conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his InfoWars website to pay $100,000 in legal costs to the attorneys representing a parent of a Sandy Hook shooting victim who is suing them for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The fees, contained in two orders issued Dec. 20 by state District Judge Scott Jenkins, were imposed in part because the defendants failed to adequately produce witnesses and provide information to the plaintiff’s attorneys as ordered by the court.

Jenkins’ order came even as he denied a motion by Jones’ attorney to dismiss the case brought by Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, was one of the 20 first-graders killed along with six school staffers in the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The sanctions fell short of what the plaintiffs were asking for — a default judgment holding Jones and his conspiracy news site liable without benefit of a jury trail.

But Jenkins said that possibility remains “under advisement and may be reconsidered” when the case returns to his courtroom after what he expects will be an appeal of his decision not to dismiss the case. It is one of four cases brought by parents of children killed at Sandy Hook, a tragedy that Jones and others on InfoWars suggested for years was a hoax intended to create a pretext for the government to gut gun rights.

With a default judgment, Jones and InfoWars would be found liable and a jury would be convened to determine the amount of damages. Jenkins noted that InfoWars’ attorneys had promised they would seek to “belatedly comply” with his Oct. 18 discovery order. Jenkins said the extent to which they deliver on that promise might affect further sanctions.

In his two Dec. 20 orders, Jenkins assessed costs of $65,825 against the defendants for discovery abuse and another $34,324 because they had brought the motion to dismiss under a state statute in which they argued that regardless of the evidence, the claim isn’t legally allowable but which requires that attorney fees be awarded to the prevailing party.

T. Wade Jefferies, the latest in a succession of lawyers representing Jones in the Sandy Hook litigation, blamed the discovery problems on a “previous out-of-state counsel controlling the case,” a reference to Los Angeles attorney Robert Barnes, whom Jefferies replaced.

“There has now been a change of counsel, and such issues have been, or will be, cured,” Jefferies said.

“As to the actual amounts of attorneys’ fees awarded, in my opinion, and every lawyer with knowledge of the case I have talked to agrees, the attorneys’ fee awards are excessive,” Jefferies said.

Jenkins noted that his Oct. 18 order was “clear and unmistakable, easily understood by any competent reader.”

“On the record presented, the Court concludes the Defendants intentionally disregarded the October 18 order. The Court notes that a client’s refusal to cooperate with an attorney may rise to good cause for the attorney’s withdrawal,” under a provision of the Texas Disciplinary Rule of Professional Conduct, Jenkins wrote.

Jenkins also wrote that the failure of InfoWars to produce a corporate representative prepared to discuss the sourcing, research and internal editorial discussions surrounding its Sandy Hook coverage for a Thanksgiving week deposition in the Heslin case “should be treated as contempt of court.”

Rob Dew, InfoWars’ news director, appeared as the corporate representative at the recent deposition, as he did back in March in a deposition in another emotional distress case brought by Scarlett Lewis, mother of Sandy Hook victim Jesse Lewis.

In his motion for sanctions, following the second deposition, Mark Bankston, the Houston attorney representing Lewis and Heslin and two other Sandy Hook parents in lawsuits claiming defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress or both, described Dew as “completely unprepared to discuss” how Jones and InfoWars did their reporting.

“The Court may recall that Mr. Dew was the corporate representative who was equally unprepared to testify in the Lewis case,” Bankston wrote. “The Court described Mr. Dew’s previous testimony as ‘clueless about InfoWars,’ resulting in ‘a pretty meaningless deposition.’ Despite that history, Defendants once again failed to prepare Mr. Dew, who repeatedly admitted he could not offer testimony and openly acknowledged he was unprepared.”

Jones, in his own three-hour deposition, also seemed to have only the vaguest idea of where he and others at InfoWars came up with their oft-repeated, false claims that they said fed their suspicion that the mass killing was some kind of hoax.

Forty-four times Jones answered, “I don’t remember,” under interrogation by Bankston, and 51 times, “I don’t know.”

In October, Jenkins imposed attorney fees of $25,000 on Jones and InfoWars for failing to deliver court-ordered documents in a parallel defamation lawsuit by Heslin,

At the hearing on that motion for sanctions, Bankston asked Jenkins to hold Jones’ lawyers in contempt for failing to meet his discovery order. Jenkins said that while he thought the word “contempt” was too “incendiary,” he would issue a sanction that would require Jones’ legal team to pay Heslin’s lawyers to compensate them for time they spent preparing for the discovery that never occurred.

In his latest order, Jenkins no longer considers the word “contempt” too “incendiary” to describe the defendants’ behavior.

“Mr. Jones is learning that he cannot treat the courts with the same contempt he showed my clients,” Bankston said in a statement.

Heslin’s lawsuit says a June 2017 report by Owen Shroyer, a reporter and host on InfoWars, contending that Heslin could not have held his dead son in his arms after the shooting as he maintained, was based on a deceptively edited interview with a medical examiner and was intended to buttress the false InfoWars narrative that the mass shooting was a sham.

While Jones did not personally appear in that report, he subsequently replayed it on his show.

Correction: The original headline and story said that Alex Jones was required to pay $100,000 for resisting discovery in a Sandy Hook lawsuit. It has been corrected to indicate that the $100,000 levied against Jones and InfoWars was for legal costs including discovery abuse.