- A Connecticut jury on Wednesday ordered Alex Jones to pay $965 million to Sandy Hook families.
- The compensatory damages may be with him indefinitely, lawyers said.
- However, collecting the damages could be a challenge and the families may never get the full amount.
As a judge read off the nearly $1 billion in damages a jury ordered Alex Jones to pay the families of Sandy Hook victims on Wednesday, the Infowars host held a livestream for his followers in which he mocked the verdict in real-time.
But legal experts told Insider it’s unlikely Jones will be able to escape this judgment, even if it’s never paid out in full.
“I see a lot of claims from Mr. Alex Jones about how he’s never going to actually pay it,” Matthew Barhoma, attorney and founder of Power Trial Lawyers and Barhoma Law, told Insider, adding that it’s “all common banter for Jones.”
“But this might be a debt that follows him for the rest of his life,” he added.
A Connecticut jury on Wednesday ordered Jones to pay $965 million in compensatory damages to families of the victims in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 first graders and six adults were killed. Jones spent years pushing false conspiracy theories about the shooting, including saying that it was a hoax intended to rile support for gun restrictions.
Lawyers told Insider the damages were stunning for a defamation case, with Barhoma calling the payout a “jaw-dropping” figure. Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and the president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, said he anticipated the damages to be under $100 million or several hundred million at the absolute highest, calling this verdict a “big surprise.”
Jones could be ‘broke’ for the rest of his life
Despite Jones’s dismissal of the damages, also spelling trouble for him is the fact that the jury awarded them as “compensatory” damages rather than “punitive.”
“Punitive are simply looking to punish a defendant. Compensatory damages are looking to make a plaintiff whole,” Barhoma said, adding that although Jones is certain to appeal the verdict, an appellate court will be less likely to interfere with compensatory damages delivered by a jury.
Also significant is that compensatory damages are not capped in Connecticut, several lawyers told Insider, unlike punitive damages. In US states with damage caps, punitive or compensatory, judgments are typically lowered by a judge in order to comply with the law, such as when the punitive damages Amber Heard was ordered to pay Johnny Depp were reduced.
Because of this, and the uphill battle Jones is facing in an appeal, Barhoma said Jones will likely be stuck with this debt for many years to come. Harry Litman, a former US attorney, made a similar prediction in an appearance on MSNBC on Wednesday.
“We’re talking about such outsized numbers that even if he’s able to bob and weave some, I just don’t see how he winds up anything but basically broke now for the rest of his life,” he said.
In addition to an appeal, Jones will likely pursue other means to avoid paying out the families in full, such as a settlement or bankruptcy. However, Barhoma noted it’s generally difficult to get this kind of debt forgiven in bankruptcy proceedings.
Ultimately, as for whether or not Jones’s lawyers will be able to get him totally off the hook for the hefty sum, Barhoma said: “Good luck.”
The Sandy Hook families may not be paid out in full
One thing Jones may be right about, however, is whether or not the families will get paid the full amount they are due.
“Jones is correct in that the plaintiffs are not likely to collect the full amount, but the near billion dollars that was awarded was in many ways meant to be exemplary,” Beverly Hills entertainment attorney Mitra Ahouraian, whose work includes defamation cases, told Insider.
Jones, for his part, has claimed to be basically broke, but an economist who testified at another Jones trial in Texas estimated he and his company were worth somewhere between $135 million and $270 million. Jones’s company even filed for bankruptcy in July in what some saw as an effort to avoid being ordered to pay major damages.
Ahouraian explained that in order for the Connecticut families to collect their judgments, their legal teams would “have to do the work of connecting Jones to his various shell companies, and piercing the corporate veil to show that the companies and Jones are one and the same so that all possible sources of assets can be used to fulfill the judgment to the maximum degree possible.”
After the verdict was read Wednesday, one of the lawyers for the Sandy Hook families, Chris Mattei, said he and his colleagues will now be scrutinizing Jones’ assets in the recovery process.
Regardless of how much the families ultimately are paid out, the lawyers said the judgment sent a message about Jones, who they described as an unsympathetic defendant all the way until the end.
“The fact that the numbers are so high is indicative of how egregious the jury felt Alex Jones’ actions and behavior was,” Ahouraian said, “and they wanted to send a message and punish him accordingly.”
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