Recently, there were major developments in defamation lawsuits brought by family members of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting.
Leonard Pozner is the father of a six-year-old student, Noah, who died in the massacre. Mr. Pozner filed a defamation suit against the co-editors of the book titled, Nobody Died at Sandy Hook. As the title of the book previews, the main premise of the book was that there was no massacre at Sandy Hook. According to the book, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, staged the event to garner greater support for gun control measures.
Mr. Pozner’s lawsuit focused on the book’s allegations that Mr. Pozner was not Noah’s father and that Mr. Pozner had fabricated Noah’s death certificate as part of the FEMA-led conspiracy. Recently, a Wisconsin judge granted summary judgment in favor of Mr. Pozner, finding that the book’s editors had defamed Mr. Pozner by publishing the false claims. Now that Mr. Pozner has won his case, his claim for $1 million in damages will be tried in the fall.
Following the ruling, a representative of the book’s publisher issued a statement of apology to Mr. Pozner and his family.
Mr. Pozner is also a party to other lawsuits related to Sandy Hook conspiracy allegations, including the ongoing defamation lawsuit in Connecticut against Alex Jones. Mr. Pozner and other Sandy Hook families filed suit against InfoWars host Alex Jones in 2018. According to the complaint in that case, Mr. Jones was “the chief amplifier for a group that has worked in concert to create and propagate loathsome, false narratives about the Sandy Hook shooting and its victims, and promote their harassment and abuse.”
Mr. Jones moved to dismiss the complaint against him early in the litigation, but likely will not be permitted to file similar motions moving forward after a judge sanctioned him this week.
According to court documents, during litigation, the plaintiffs found images of child pornography in documents Mr. Jones had produced in discovery. Mr. Jones then alleged in a segment on InfoWars that one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys had framed him by planting child pornography on computer servers. Mr. Jones reportedly offered a $1-million-dollar reward to any of his viewers who could prove Mr. Jones was the victim of a conspiracy.
After the episode aired, the plaintiffs’ attorneys asked the court to review the broadcast. Mr. Jones reportedly was sanctioned by the court for his behavior on the show during that episode. In addition to ruling that Mr. Jones must pay some attorneys’ fees and costs to the plaintiffs, the court reportedly also ruled that Mr. Jones could not file motions to dismiss the defamation case against him as the litigation continues.
The various lawsuits addressing the “Sandy Hook is a hoax” claims continue to draw attention, not only because of their subject matter, but because of the lawsuits’ potential to influence the development of defamation law and our understanding of free speech with respect to social media, new media, conspiracy theories, and digital trolls.
For a more in-depth look at the potential impacts of the claims against Alex Jones in particular, see WIRED magazine’s article, “Win or Lose, the Alex Jones Lawsuit Will Help Redefine Free Speech.” According to WIRED staff writer Emma Grey Ellis, the key moving forward is that “we learn to negotiate the balance between speaking safely, and freely, on the web.”
By Alexandra Tracy-Ramirez, HopkinsWay PLLC. | © HopkinsWay PLLC 2019. All rights reserved.