October 20, 2023

On October 19, Willkie and co-counsel obtained a ruling holding that Alex Jones cannot use his personal bankruptcy to discharge debt that he owes to Willkie’s clients for defaming them and committing intentional infliction of emotional distress. Willkie is serving as pro bono bankruptcy counsel to several parents whose children were murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Willkie’s role in representing these parents opposes the efforts of Alex Jones and his company Free Speech Systems, LLC (“FSS”) to erase the debt Jones and FSS owe to the parents. After Alex Jones and FSS broadcast a series of lies about the shooting—including claiming that “the whole thing is a giant hoax” and accusing Willkie’s clients of being “actors” who were “going after the Second Amendment”— the parents sued Alex Jones and FSS in Texas state court for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The families obtained default judgments in 2021 based on Jones’s and FSS’s “pervasive and persistent obstruction” of the discovery process. A Texas jury awarded two of those clients approximately $50 million in damages. Before the other parents could obtain a damages verdict, Alex Jones and FSS filed for bankruptcy seeking to discharge their debts to Willkie’s clients and other parents they defamed.
Earlier this year, in the bankruptcies, Willkie and co-counsel filed a lawsuit against Jones and FSS seeking declaratory judgments that their debts to Willkie’s clients cannot be discharged because the debts are for Jones’s and FSS’s “willful and malicious injury” of the parents. Willkie and co-counsel then filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the parents are entitled to judgment against Alex Jones either under collateral estoppel or based on the record from the state-court cases.
With its recent decision, the Bankruptcy Court ruled that Alex Jones owes debt to each of the movant plaintiffs that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.  The decision fixes the amount of part of that debt and provides that the remainder will be determined through further litigation.
Willkie partner Stuart R. Lombardi and Texas co-counsel Avi Moshenberg argued the motion for summary judgment in the Southern District of Texas Bankruptcy Court. Mr. Lombardi argued that Jones is collaterally estopped from relitigating the state court findings and asked the Court to declare, based on those findings, that Jones’s debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy: “The debtor had his chance, he blew it, [and] he wants a mulligan.”  In its decision, the Bankruptcy Court made clear that it “will not retry Jones’s liability,” will not “revisit Jones’s arguments about the constitutionality of the state court’s finding that he is liable for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress,” and will not provide “a forum to retry deemed admissions under the default judgment orders that constitute willful and malicious injuries.”
The Willkie summary judgment team consists of partners Jennifer Hardy, Stuart R. Lombardi and Rachel C. Strickland, and associates Ciara Sisco, Courtenay Cullen, and Deanna Drenga.  Willkie is co-counsel with Avi Moshenberg of McDowell Hetherington LLP and Jarrod B. Martin of Chamberlain Hrdlicka White Williams & Aughtry PC.