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Jury selection begins in defamation lawsuit against Fox News

FILE - Dominion Voting ballot-counting machines are shown at a Torrance County warehouse during election equipment testing with local candidates and partisan officers in Estancia, N.M., Sept. 29, 2022. Lawyers for Fox News and a voting machine company on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, tangled over the high bar to prove defamation in a $1.6 billion lawsuit that has embarrassed the conservative network over its airing of false claims related to the 2020 presidential election. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton, File)

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Potential jurors in a defamation trial seeking to hold Fox News responsible for repeatedly airing false claims related to the 2020 presidential election were asked Thursday whether they were viewers of the network and had any opinions about allies of former President Donald Trump who helped spread the allegations after his loss.

With jury selection closed to the media and public, Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis announced by the afternoon that the interview process had produced a large enough pool from which to choose 12 jurors and 12 alternates. The seating of jurors will begin Monday morning, followed by opening statements from lawyers.

Potential jurors also were questioned whether they knew or had any opinion of lawyers Rudy Giuliani or Sidney Powell, who represented Trump after his defeat and appeared on Fox News programs. There were questions, too, concerning Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO who has helped spread conspiracy theories related to voting machines.

News habits were a key focus of the questionnaire given to potential jurors, who were asked whether they regularly watch or avoid Fox News programs and whether that would affect their ability to be fair and impartial.

Davis had made clear that the selection process would be done out of public view to ensure the privacy and safety of potential jurors.

“Because of the nature of the case and under the statute, I can take those steps to protect jurors,” the judge said, noting the case has received international attention.

“I need to make sure that the jury remains unaffected by this,” Davis added.

Jury selection in Delaware is usually done in public but occasionally is closed, such as in high-profile criminal cases or those involving alleged gang activity.

On Thursday morning, the judge met privately with potential jurors and handed out forms asking several routine questions, including whether those in the jury pool have ever worked for, or know anyone who has worked for Fox or Dominion Voting Systems, the Colorado-based voting machine company that filed the defamation lawsuit.

They also were asked whether they know any of the potential witnesses for the trial, a list of nearly 120 names.

Davis previously rejected a request by lawyers for Dominion to ask potential jurors whether they believe the 2020 presidential election may have been stolen or illegitimate or whether President Joe Biden was fraudulently elected.

Dominion also unsuccessfully sought to have jurors questioned on whether they agreed that the company committed fraud by rigging the election or that Dominion’s software and algorithms manipulated vote counts.

Davis also didn't allow questions related to some of the claims aired on Fox in the weeks after the election, including whether jurors agreed that Dominion is owned by a company founded in Venezuela to rig elections for the late strongman Hugo Chávez or that it paid kickbacks to government officials who used its machines that year.

Dominion is suing Fox for $1.6 billion, alleging it damaged the company by repeatedly airing such allegations. Internal Fox communications produced as part of the lawsuit show that many Fox executives and on-air hosts didn’t believe the claims but broadcast them anyway.

The judge began Thursday’s proceeding by denying a request by certain media outlets for permission to record and rebroadcast a live audio feed of the trial. The outlets sought similar permission for the jury selection, even though it is being done in private without audio access.

Davis told lawyers and media representatives in the courtroom that even providing an audio feed of the trial is unprecedented.

“You’re getting the most access of any media in a Superior Court case in Delaware,” he said.

The trial is expected to last six weeks.

Randall Chase, The Associated Press

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