On Thursday, a Texas jury awarded the parents of Jessie Lewis, who was killed in the 2012 shooting in Sandy Hook, $4.1 million in compensatory damages against Alex Jones for defamation and emotional distress caused by suggesting that the six-year-old’s father lied about the boy’s death.
The family had sought $150 million, but it was suspected they might be granted a much lower amount as Texas civil juries are notoriously stingy. But perhaps more interesting than the ultimate damages against the conspiracy theory maven and Jan. 6 leader would be forced to pay was the utterly calamitous performance of his latest defense team that could ultimately put Jones on the hook for a criminal charge of perjury.
This past week of the trial unearthed a series of revelations that could have devastating consequences for Jones. For starters, Jones had already lost a default judgment in this case and another in Connecticut. Now, he stands accused of perjury and faces a high likelihood of his phone history being handed over to the House Select Committee investigating Jan. 6. Both of these developments are the result of the utter incompetence of Jones’ attorney, F. Andino Reynal.
That ineptitude was on full display starting on Wednesday, when plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Bankston confronted Jones on the stand with a series of text messages and emails that seemed to show he had been lying in an earlier deposition. Jones claimed he had searched through his own phone history and he had no texts or emails relevant to the case. Bankston then revealed rather dramatically that he knew Jones was lying about the messages, because Reynal’s team had “messed up and sent me your entire cell phone texting history 12 days ago.”
Jones should be frightened about potentially being charged with perjury.
“I would say when you’re Alex Jones the possibility of a prosecution is ratcheted up by, one, his high profile and, two, his unlikability if that’s the right word,” Georgetown Law Professor Michael Frisch told me. “I mean the reality is prosecutors in criminal cases exercise discretion and he’s a pretty big get. He almost begs for it.”
Bankston, in a separate hearing on Thursday, suggested that there’s already a potential “law enforcement” investigation of Jones underway.
As Frisch noted, it would not only be the Department of Justice that might have jurisdiction in a perjury case, but rather “it’s much more likely to be a state court prosecutor in Texas.”
In a hearing on Thursday over a request by Reynal for a mistrial due to the publicization of the inadvertent disclosure to the jury, Bankston revealed more about how the cell phone data got into his hands, why it was fair game to use in court, and what he might do with it next. The revelations should make Jones—and anyone with whom he may have had compromising text messages—shudder.
As Bankston told the court, Reynal’s legal assistant accidentally sent opposing counsel a 300 gigabyte file with much of Jones’ data history on it. Also on the file were medical files for plaintiffs against Jones in a separate Sandy Hook defamation case, which clearly should not have been released to anyone. Bankston told the court that he deleted the medical files, but not the rest. Reynal’s initial response to the inadvertent disclosure was to reply “please disregard” and “I will work on preparing you a new link.”
As Bankston noted to the court, though, and as the judge accepted, the plaintiff’s attorney was under no obligation to treat “please disregard” as a legally binding request. Indeed, under Texas Civil Rules of Procedure 193.3—which Bankston noted Reynal had cited in his mistrial motion— Reynal had ten days to assert specific privileges, such as attorney-client privilege, over specific portions of the disclosures. Reynal did not do so, and 12 days later, Bankston made the revelations in court.
Further, Bankston told the court:
I am under request from various federal agencies and law enforcement to provide that phone. Absent a ruling from you saying ‘you cannot do that Mr. Bankston,’ then I intend to do so immediately following this hearing. I believe that there is absolutely nothing, nothing that Mr. Reynal has done to fulfill his obligations to protect his client and prevent me from doing that.
At this point, Reynal pleaded with the court not to let Bankston hand over Jones’ cell phone data to federal agencies and law enforcement. Judge Maya Guerra Gamble asked Bankston to clarify who was requesting the documents.
“Right now, I’ve been asked by the Jan. 6 committee to turn over the documents,” Bankston said.
Addressing Reynal, Judge Gamble laughed and said “I don’t know that you get to stop that anyway.” Ultimately, she told Reynal she would allow him to “research whether there is some reason I should not allow Mr. Bankston to make” the disclosure, but clearly viewed her own ability to block the release to the committee very skeptically.
As for the mistrial request, Gamble was incredulous. “I don’t think it’s a mistrial based on this. That was kind of a throwaway, I don’t know if you really meant it,” Gamble said at one point to Reynal.
He didn’t respond, but Gamble asked the question again later in the proceeding: “You didn’t tell me if you’re really trying to move for a mistrial or if that was just a throwaway?”
“No, we are moving for a mistrial,” Reynal responded.
“That’s like the 17th time or something,” remarked a bemused Gamble.
As for whether any of the remaining texts from Jones’ search history will see the light of day in this proceeding, another defamation trial, or through another venue, Judge Gamble instructed Reynal to make any requests to mark documents “confidential” under a previous court agreement he might have as soon as possible. However, she also suggested she would look upon those requests skeptically. When Reynal complained that the data release was “a tremendous amount of information, your honor” to review so quickly, the judge replied: “I know. The problem is it probably should have been disclosed a year ago or longer and then there would have been plenty of time to look through it.”
Earlier in the hearing, Bankston noted that it is unlikely that many of these texts—some of which could interest the Jan. 6 committee or law enforcement—would be covered by the confidentiality agreement anyway. “Things like Mr. Jones in his intimate messages to Roger Stone are not confidential, they are not trade secrets, none of them,” Bankston noted.
All in all, Thursday was probably a worse day in court for Alex Jones. He seems to have little recourse. “It will be no defense to Jones to say this should not have been submitted therefore a perjury prosecution can’t be [initiated],” Frisch told me.
Reynal, as well, could face all sorts of problems for the revelations. “Claiming his lawyer had violated his obligation to his client could be a basis for [a] malpractice,” case by Jones against Reynal, Frisch said. If a perjury prosecution goes forward, Reynal could be in even more trouble. If the documents show that Jones committed perjury, leading to criminal charges, Reynal could be subject to bar sanctions or civil liability. Moreover, the court in the Texas defamation case might get involved if Reynal had documents relevant to the case and failed to disclose them to the court.
It’s worth noting that this is not the first time Reynal has embarrassed himself in Gamble’s courtroom. Earlier in the trial he had to apologize after being photographed giving Bankston the middle finger during an angry confrontation.