By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) – Fox News said Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Maria Bartiromo and other top on-air personalities will be available to testify as it defends itself against a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit claiming it lied about voter fraud in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
In a letter filed on Tuesday in Delaware Superior Court, Fox said the hosts are among 11 people the cable television network intends to make available at trial, in a case brought by Dominion Voting Systems.
Fox host Jeanine Pirro and former host Lou Dobbs are also on Fox’s witness list, and others including hosts Bret Baier and Dana Perino could be called to testify by either side, the letter said.
Rupert Murdoch, the 92-year-old chair of Fox’s parent Fox Corp, is not on Fox’s witness list.
The list promises a high-wattage parade of witnesses at the jury trial scheduled to start on April 17 and expected to last about four weeks.
Dominion is hoping to prove that Fox ruined its reputation by repeatedly airing false claims by former Republican President Donald Trump, his lawyers and others that its voting machines were used to steal the 2020 election for Democrat Joe Biden.
The Denver-based company has said emails, texts and depositions show that Fox aired false election claims to boost profit and keep viewers from defecting to the right-wing outlets Newsmax and OAN, which also embraced Trump’s claims.
To prevail, Dominion must establish that Fox acted with actual malice, meaning that it knowingly spread false information or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.
Fox has argued that its coverage was protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment because election fraud claims were inherently newsworthy, and its hosts and guests were entitled to express their opinions.
But on Friday, Judge Eric Davis rejected much of Fox’s defense, and said Dominion’s case was strong enough to go to a jury.
“The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that (it) is CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” he wrote.
Fox faces a similar lawsuit by another voting technology company, Smartmatic, which is seeking $2.7 billion in damages.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, editing by Deepa Babington)