A man helped carry Fox News and Dominion to a settlement from a European cruise ship

Before pulling back from the brink of a trial, the Fox News and Dominion Voting systems faced a stark deadline, not from an impatient judge or jury, but from a man on a Danube river cruise with his wife half a world away.

A mediator hired Sunday night pushed the two sides toward a $787 million settlement that brought a stunning end to the most watched media defamation case in decades, one that sought to put a price tag on lies told about the election. 2020 presidential races on America’s Most Popular Conservatives. news outlet

“It’s a deadline that I always set because I know that once a jury is formed and opening statements are made, one or the other of the parties will dig deeper into their positions,” said Jerry Roscoe of the Washington-based mediation service JAMS. . Wednesday. “It makes negotiations much more difficult.”

As the haggling progressed, over the phone and in the back rooms of a Delaware courthouse, lawyers, reporters and onlookers waited as the trial shuttled back and forth, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Finally, two minutes before 4:00 pm, Superior Court Judge Eric Davis made an almost practical announcement, given the stakes.

“The parties have resolved their case,” he said.

It was a deal that had been months in the making as the Colorado-based voting technology company sued Fox for $1.6 billion, claiming its business was harmed and employees threatened when it was unsubstantiated. of rigging their voting machines against former President Donald Trump in 2020.

In the two months before the trial was scheduled to start, a mountain of evidence, some damning, some downright embarrassing, showed that many Fox executives and on-air talent did not believe the allegations broadcast primarily on shows hosted by Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro. At the time, they feared they would anger Trump fans in the audience with the truth.

Judge Davis had ordered the two sides to try to mediate their differences last December, but Dominion couldn’t get started. The company did not want the case to end without all the evidence it had gathered being made public. That happened throughout February and March, with dumps of documents essentially outlining the case Dominion would have made at trial.

“That was something we had committed to from the beginning,” Dominion CEO John Poulos said Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “We had full support with our partners, and it’s something we owe our customers.”

Fox had argued that it was airing newsworthy allegations made by Trump advisers and that the Dominion case was an attack on press freedom.

Defamation is difficult to prove: a jury must find that journalists knowingly published false information or with “reckless disregard” for the truth. However, Fox’s path to victory was narrowed, both through the evidence presented and the rulings of Judge Davis, who said the allegations against Dominion were unquestionably false and that newsworthiness was not a defense against defamation. .

Lawyers for both sides, Justin Nelson of Dominion and Dan Webb of Fox, quietly began seeking a pre-trial deal. With the two parties far apart, they approached mediator Roscoe, who was then sailing between Budapest and Bucharest with his wife. He agreed to take the case, using much of Monday to read the evidence.

“My job is to create options and give them options,” Roscoe said.

He was on the phone constantly from the ship, mostly with lawyers other than Nelson and Webb on Tuesday as they prepared for opening statements, and directors like Poulos, ensconced in a conference room at the courthouse.

Judge Davis gave the two sides Monday off to speak. On Tuesday morning, a jury was selected that included five black men, four white women, two black women and one white man. It was a majority black jury that decided the financial fate of a network whose audience is 94 percent white and 1 percent black, according to the Nielsen company.

Jury selection can be a key moment in pushing two parties toward a last-minute agreement, said Lee Levine, a veteran First Amendment attorney.

There is a strong possibility that “Fox decided to wait and see what kind of jury he attracted and see if they had a couple of people on the jury who had good feelings about being reticent,” Levine said.

Fox privately resisted the idea that jury selection was key to a settlement, saying instead that there were complicated negotiations that needed to take place.

Meanwhile, after a lunch break, people returned to the courtroom packed with boxes full of evidence. Webb spoke on his cell phone and walked over to Nelson to speak quietly more than once. At one point, Mr. Webb was seen leaving the courtroom with a wide smile on his face.

Levine was walking along a beach in North Carolina with his wife, wearing headphones to capture the audio of opening remarks. When court didn’t resume at 2:30 pm, his gut told him a deal was coming.

When did Mr. Roscoe have that feeling?

“When he joined and not a moment before,” said the mediator. “The parties had different analyzes of the law and the facts and were vigorous defenders of their positions throughout the negotiations.”

The deal was reached before 3 p.m. in Delaware, or 10 p.m. on Roscoe’s boat.

The negotiations were mainly financial. Fox had issued a public statement Monday saying Dominion had lowered its damage estimate by $600 million. Dominion disputed this, but the final deal was closer to what Fox said the adjusted figure was.

Some Fox critics were angry about the deal, wanting to see a trial with Fox figures forced to testify in public, or at least Fox personalities forced to apologize to Dominion on the air.

Instead, Fox issued a statement saying it acknowledged Davis’ findings that “certain claims about Dominion” were false. “This agreement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards,” Fox said.

Levine sees it this way: “At the end of the day, I think a reasonable reading of what happened was that there was a line that Fox wouldn’t or couldn’t cross because of its business model.”

“They couldn’t get their hosts to go on the air and tell (viewers) that they were lied to,” he said.

“I don’t think a forced apology is worth a dime,” said Stephen Shackelford, Dominion’s co-directing attorney. He said that following a December 2020 legal threat from another tech firm, Smartmatic, Fox aired an interview with an election expert debunking the fraud claims, and it had little effect on Fox’s audience or how Fox operated. .

Smartmatic has a lawsuit pending against Fox that is similar to Dominion’s.

“You can’t change their culture and approach from the outside,” Shackelford said. “They have to do it themselves.”

Fox had no immediate comment Wednesday other than the statement issued with the agreement.

In making the deal, Poulos said he had to keep in mind the employees and customers who had been harassed after the false claims. He noted that Fox had acknowledged the court’s rulings that the allegations were false.

Given the challenges he faced trying to bring Fox and Dominion together with their disputes over fact and legal theory, Roscoe said it is one of the most significant cases he has worked on in his career. However, his wife may insist on another vacation.

“She was probably on the internet looking for another husband,” she joked.

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