Where Alex Jones goes, the weirdness tends to follow. A sequence that occurred during his cross-examination in a Texas courtroom on Wednesday was, for legal observers and laypersons alike, a prime example.
Mr Jones was giving evidence in a trial that will determine how much he should pay the parents of a child who died in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. He had already lost the case by default after failing to produce documents and testimony related to his spreading conspiracy theories about the shooting.
In the middle of the cross-examination, a lawyer for the parents, Mark Bankston, had a surprise: Twelve days earlier, lawyers for Mr Jones had sent data from his iPhone, including two years of text messages, to the plaintiffs.
The revelation prompted Mr Bankston to suggest that Mr Jones had committed perjury in previous depositions. It also raised questions about exactly how phone data was shared.
Here’s what legal experts thought of when Mr Jones was confronted with his phone data.
Attorney Mark Bankston said #AlexJones that his lawyer screwed up and sent him Jones’ full cell phone history. “Did you know your lawyers made a mistake and sent me your entire text history 12 days ago?” Bankston asked. “You know what perjury is, don’t you?” pic.twitter.com/IfIiP5UTIg
– Law&Crime Network (@LawCrimeNetwork) August 3, 2022
Alex Jones looked surprised, but was that really unusual?
“It’s wild,” said Ellen Yaroshefsky, a distinguished professor of legal ethics at Hofstra University. “It’s really wild. It’s a wild situation in a wild affair with a wild person.
The exchange was revealing for several reasons. Information relevant to such litigation is usually released before trial, in a process called discovery.
Bruce Green, a law professor at Fordham, where he runs a center for law and ethics, said Mr Bankston, as part of this process, almost certainly requested texts and emails Mr Jones had sent regarding Sandy Hook.
Even if Mr. Jones’ attorneys wanted to withhold some of his communications as privileged, they should have provided a list of those documents to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, who could then have attempted to gain access to the documents by appealing to the judge.
Steven Goode, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law who specializes in trial and appellate law, said in an interview that if what Mr Bankston said on Wednesday was accurate and the attorneys for Mr. Jones had done nothing after learning what they had done, “I would think that was wonderful.”
Why should we believe what the parents’ lawyer said?
Mr Green said Mr Bankston was almost certainly telling the truth about how he came into possession of the phone records, for two reasons. First, Mr. Jones’ lawyers did not challenge his presentation in court, which allowed the records to be admitted into evidence. Second, it would be a disciplinary violation for Mr. Bankston to lie to the judge.
In most states, ethics rules require plaintiffs’ attorneys to notify their defense counterparts of inadvertent disclosures. Texas, however, has no such rule. Yet Mr Bankston said in court on Wednesday that he had informed Mr Jones’ team of the disclosure, saying that “when informed” the lawyers “took no action to identify her as privileged or protect her in any way”. ”
Prof Goode said that if Mr Bankston’s description was accurate, he had given a lawyer for Mr Jones the opportunity to assert privilege over the material in a more generous way than necessary.
On Thursday, a lawyer for Mr. Jones, F. Andino Reynal, filed an urgent motion asking that a judge order Mr. Bankston to return all hard copies of the documents produced from the mobile phone records, to seal those already entered into evidence and to give his team a chance to provide replacement copies of the relevant evidence.
At a hearing on the motion, Mr. Reynal also asked for a mistrial, based on Mr. Bankston’s use of the cellphone recordings. He said that after the documents were inadvertently handed over, he asked Mr Bankston to disregard the link sent to him and expected the request to be honored.
Mr Bankston, in response, said the words “please ignore” had created “no legal obligation for me”, adding that he had no obligation not to view the documents. He called the motion “frivolous.” (He also said the link to the records was sent by Mr. Reynal’s legal assistant.)
The judge, Maya Guerra Gamble, denied the request for a mistrial and the motion.
Did Mr. Jones commit perjury? If so, is he at risk of suffering the consequences?
Experts said it was unclear whether Mr Jones would face perjury charges. Under Texas law, a person can be charged with perjury, a misdemeanor, if they make a false statement under oath, or if under oath they swear to the truth of a statement previously made, with a clear understanding of the statement and intent to deceive. The person can be charged with aggravated perjury, a felony, if the false statement is made in an official process and could have affected the outcome of the case.
If investigators from the Travis County District Attorney’s Office investigate the case and find that Mr. Jones committed perjury, he could be charged with a felony. The office did not respond to a request for comment.
“At one point the judge actually said to Jones, you believe everything that comes out of your mouth the moment you say it,” Professor Goode said. “I don’t know what he believes or doesn’t believe, so I have no idea if Travis County prosecutors would be somehow interested in prosecuting or if they would actually be in able to establish a business.”