While courts have ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to return more than $1 billion in damages to the families of Sandy Hook victims, recovering the money from the Infowars founder could prove difficult.
A Connecticut jury on Wednesday ordered Jones to pay the families of the eight Sandy Hook victims and an FBI agent who responded to the 2012 school shooting a total of $965 million for falsely claiming the massacre was a hoax. Jones was also ordered to pay his family members nearly $50 million in August following a separate trial in Texas.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut is the deadliest elementary school mass shooting in American history. Adam Lanza, 20, shot and killed 26 people, 20 of whom were 6 and 7 years old, as well as six school staff.
While Jones’ net worth isn’t entirely clear, he likely doesn’t have the funds to pay $1 billion. Bernard Pettingill, a forensic economist who testified at the trial in Texas, estimated that Jones probably had between $135 million and $270 million, combining his personal wealth and money from his media company Free Speech Systems.
“It is highly doubtful that the plaintiffs will recover the full amount of this nearly $1 billion judgment,” attorney Joseph H. Low IV said in a statement obtained by Newsweek. “On the one hand, I don’t think Jones has that kind of money. It’s going to be an exercise in holding him accountable and making him feel pain. The plaintiffs will get there, it’s just not going to happen overnight. the following day.”
One of the ways Jones could successfully avoid paying a large sum would be to win an appeal of the verdict. Norm Pattis, attorney for Jones claims after Wednesday’s verdict that “the fix was in place” during the trial “from start to finish” and said “we look forward to an appeal in this matter.”
Victims’ rights lawyer Lisa Bloom said Newsweek that she was ‘delighted’ with the ‘huge verdict against Alex Jones’, while warning that getting the money back from her could be ‘very difficult’.
“Collecting judgments is very difficult, especially against individuals like this who often hide their assets behind shell companies,” Bloom said. “I’ve been trying to get a big judgment against another obnoxious rich man for several years. It’s expensive, time consuming and frustrating.”
“Furthermore, Jones can file for bankruptcy,” she continued. “In our system, unfortunately, many defendants like Jones cleverly avoid payment for years or forever.”
Free Speech Systems has already filed for bankruptcy. Although Jones may also attempt to declare personal bankruptcy, he will not be able to avoid paying the judgment in full since bankruptcies do not release debts from punitive judgments. However, the $965 million awarded on Wednesday was entirely for compensatory damages, which could potentially be discharged.
Still, punitive damages have yet to be decided in Connecticut and are likely to be significant. At the trial in Texas, Jones was ordered to pay $4 million in compensatory damages and $45.2 million in punitive damages, although the damages could be reduced due to state limits.
Civil rights lawyer Subodh Chandra said Newsweek that Jones could only partially hope to “escape liability” by filing lawsuits and filing for bankruptcy to remedy non-punitive damages, while states and plaintiffs will retain options to collect the funds.
“That’s why punitive damages are so important,” Chandra said. “And even with calls, in most states [Jones] would likely have to post bonds to suspend collection and guarantee payment of full judgments if he loses, and it’s hard to see how he could afford that. If he tries to hide or move his assets, plaintiffs can sue him for fraudulent conveyance.”
Attorney Cole Wist said in a Tweeter that “justice” had been served following the great judgments against Jones. Wist compared the conspiracy theorist’s future to that of OJ Simpson, predicting that he would “spend the rest of his life trying to avoid paying civil judgments”.
During an interview on MSNBC after Wednesday’s verdict, former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman also said that Jones may try to “squirm” not to pay, but the judgments will likely follow him for the rest of his life.
“Even though he’s able to weave and weave, I just don’t see how he finishes anything, but he’s basically broken now for the rest of his life,” Litman said. “If he doesn’t have enough, everything he has goes to them.”
Los Angeles entertainment attorney Tre Lovell said in a statement obtained by Newsweek that “not all results look bleak for Jones”.
“If he has the judgment overturned in bankruptcy, but uses the publicity of the lawsuit to gin up his base and increase his fundraising, he could replenish his coffers without the financial burden of a judgment looming over his head. “Lovell said.
Immediately after Wednesday’s verdict, Jones appealed to his Infowars public for donations. He said that raising the billion dollars “won’t happen” for the families of the victims, saying he has “no money” and promising that any money donated “would not go to these people”.