The families of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre want a Connecticut judge to impose “the highest possible punitive damages” for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones following a jury’s recommendation that he pay nearly $1bn.
They argue that additional damages are warranted on top of a nearly $965m jury award for compensatory damages because Jones also broke a state law barring the sale of products using false statements.
Meanwhile, Jones filed a request with the court on Friday for a new trial, arguing that Judge Barbara Bellis’ pretrial rulings resulted in an unfair trial and a “substantial miscarriage of justice”.
Christopher Mattei, a lawyer for the 15 plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Jones, declined to comment on the filing on Saturday but said he and other attorneys for the Sandy Hook families will be filing a brief opposing Jones’ request.
Jones’ lawyers, Norm Pattis and Kevin Smith, also referenced the damages awarded, writing in the motion: “Additionally, the amount of the compensatory damages award exceeds any rational relationship to the evidence offered at trial.”
In the plaintiff’s most recent filing asking Judge Bellis to consider an even higher amount, one calculation suggested that Jones could be on the hook for as much as $2.75 trillion, Bloomberg reports.
This figure was reached by multiplying the state law’s up to $5,000 per-violation fine by the 550 million social media exposures Jones’s audience received on his Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter accounts over three years after the school shooting.
That was the largest of several damage calculation options the families presented to the judge for when she assesses any further penalties.
“The only appropriate punitive damages award in this case is the largest award within the court’s power,” lawyers for the families said in the filing. “The defendants have acted willfully, maliciously, and evilly, in full knowledge of the harm they are causing people who had no means to fight back, except to bring this case.”
Judge Bellis has the final say on the amount Jones must pay. She has previously said he violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) by selling supplements and survival gear during his Infowars shows featuring his false claims about what happened at Sandy Hook in December 2012.
Jurors were not asked to consider CUTPA and were only asked to calculate defamation and emotional distress damages after Judge Bellis ruled in a separate proceeding that Jones had defamed the families.
Jones was found liable by default because he repeatedly refused to provide testimony and documents about his company, Free Speech Systems.
CUTPA has traditionally been used to compensate individuals directly harmed by products that were deceptively marketed. However, the state’s supreme court ruled in a case brought by the Sandy Hook parents against the maker of the rifle used by the shooter that it could also apply to people indirectly harmed by such products.
Jones’s lawyer Norm Pattis said in a separate filing Friday that CUTPA damages don’t fit the facts of the case. He said the judge “abdicated” her responsibility to give Jones a fair trial by entering the default judgment and evidentiary restrictions against him.
For his part, Jones claims he is bankrupt and has vowed not to pay the families at all.
Twenty first-graders and six members of staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School died in the attack on 14 December 2012.
An FBI agent who responded to the shooting and relatives of eight children and adults killed in the massacre sued Jones for defamation and infliction of emotional distress over his pushing the bogus narrative that the shooting was a hoax staged by “crisis actors” to impose more gun control.
Ten years later, on 12 October, jurors in Waterbury, Connecticut, ordered Jones and Free Speech Systems, to pay $965m in compensatory damages to the plaintiffs and said punitive damages also should be awarded.
During the trial, an employee of Jones’s testified his companies made between $150m and $1bn in sales following Sandy Hook.
Judge Bellis has scheduled hearings for early next month to determine the amount of the punitive damages.
During the trial, victims’ relatives said in often-emotional testimony that they were threatened and harassed for years by people who believed the lies told on Jones’ show. Strangers showed up at the families’ homes to record them and confronted them in public. People hurled abusive comments on social media. Relatives also said they received death and rape threats.
The verdicts came after another jury in Texas in August ordered Jones and his company to pay nearly $50m in damages to the parents of another slain Sandy Hook child.
A third trial over the hoax claims, involving two more Sandy Hook parents, is expected to be held near the end of the year in Texas.
With reporting by The Associated Press