Alex Jones is unlikely to be able to take advantage of his legal team’s mistake in releasing his text messages in his damages trial against parents of a Sandy Hook Elementary shooting victim.
Any appeals in civil trials respond to a trial court’s rulings and evidence, not lawyer missteps, Texas civil appellate attorneys said. Ineffective counsel appeals that can apply to criminal trials can’t be pursued in civil litigation.
Jones could file a separate legal malpractice lawsuit against his team, but that wouldn’t help his civil trial outcome, said Chad Baruch, a civil appellate lawyer in Dallas. And it’s unclear whether Jones could win such a case.
“The issue here would be proving that the inadvertent production was the ‘proximate cause’ of the verdict—that the verdict would not have occurred but for the production,” Baruch said in an email. “The proof there will be tough.”
Jones, the host of the InfoWars radio and web show, must pay $4.11 million in defamation damages for perpetuating lies that the 2012 school shooting, which killed 26 in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax, a jury in Austin, Texas found Thursday.
Mark Bankston, a lawyer for the parents, told Jones during the trial Wednesday that his attorneys “messed up” and sent him a digital copy of his text messages from the past two years.
The lead attorney, Andino Reynal, “did not take any steps to identify it as privileged or protected in any way,” Bankston told Jones. “And that is how I know you lied to me when you said you didn’t have text messages about Sandy Hook.”
Reynal claimed during a court hearing Thursday that he had intended to send a narrower batch of messages and that he asked Bankston to disregard them. He moved for a mistrial and an emergency protection order for the messages, which the judge overseeing the case denied.
The judge said she would allow Jones’s lawyer to make requests for marking certain documents confidential.
The motion could form the basis of an appeal on grounds that the evidence was sent in error and never should have been presented to a jury. But that argument is also unlikely to convince a judge, said John Browning, a trial lawyer and former Texas appellate justice.
“The fact that he filed this emergency motion after the testimony, it reeked of desperation,” Browning said.
Jones and his attorneys have repeatedly faced admonishments over their conduct during the course of the defamation case. The trial began after Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of the 459th District Court in Travis County entered a default judgment against Jones after finding he showed “callous disregard” for the rules of discovery.
Gamble also reprimanded Jones Aug. 2 for violating his witness oath by falsely telling the jury that he had complied with discovery and that he was bankrupt.
Browning said that pattern suggests that Jones won’t be able to pin a losing verdict on his legal team.
“For Alex Jones, he’s got a lot of other things that a reasonable person could say, ‘This is why you lost,’” Browning said. “If he were to adopt the ‘my lawyer messed up claim,’ that argument is dead on arrival.”
Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose six-year-old child Jesse Lewis died in the shooting, are seeking $150 million in damages from Jones and his company Free Speech Systems LLC for defamation and intentional inflection of emotional distress.
Jones conceded Wednesday that the Sandy Hook shooting was “100% real,” before both sides presented closing arguments to the jury.
The civil action is one of many brought by parents who claim Jones’s lies about the Sandy Hook shooting led to harassment from his followers.