Story update Aug. 5, 2022: This story was updated to reflect the latest jury decision on damages owed by Jones to the parents of a Sandy Hook victim that was decided on Aug. 5.
On Aug. 4, far-right commentator Alex Jones was ordered to pay $49.3 million in damages to the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting because of his repeated false claims that the shooting was a hoax created by advocates for gun control.
Jones is the founder of Infowars, a website known for spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation. For years, Jones made claims on the website that the Sandy Hook shooting, in which 20 students were killed, wasn’t real.
During the trial on Aug. 3, Mark Bankston, the lawyer on behalf of the parents, revealed that Jones’ lead attorney, Andino Reynal, had mistakenly sent Bankston the entire digital copy of Jones’ cell phone. That included the last two years’ worth of Jones’ text messages.
Some of Jones’ texts were ordered to be turned over in discovery, which is the exchange of information and evidence between attorneys, but not the whole digital copy of his cellphone.
After it came to light his attorney had sent the phone contents by accident, some social media posts suggested Jones could appeal a verdict on grounds of ineffective counsel (see examples here, here, here and here).
Can Alex Jones appeal a verdict on grounds of ineffective counsel? ?
No, Jones cannot appeal a verdict on grounds of ineffective counsel. Ineffective counsel is not grounds for an appeal in civil court; it is only viable in criminal cases.
WHAT WE FOUND
The defamation lawsuit filed against Alex Jones by the Sandy Hook parents is a civil case. Because it is not a criminal case, Jones does not have the right to an appeal on grounds of ineffective counsel.
A civil case involves a dispute between two parties. A criminal case is when “the government brings legal action against a person for committing a crime,” according to the Mississippi Bar.
The 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says “in all criminal prosecutions” the defendant has certain rights, including the right to a public trial without unnecessary delay, the right to an impartial jury, the right to know who your accusers are and the nature of the charges and evidence against you, and the right to effective assistance of counsel.
Rights to effective counsel during trial, including during the appeals process, are only afforded to criminal defendants and don’t extend to defendants in civil proceedings, Chad Baruch, a civil appellate lawyer with Johnston Tobey Baruch, told VERIFY.
“The Constitution does not afford the same right in civil actions, where the awesome power of the State is not in play and the parties do not face imprisonment,” he said.
According to Cornell Law School, to prove ineffective assistance in a criminal trial, a defendant must prove:
That their trial lawyer’s performance fell below an “objective standard of reasonableness”
“A reasonable probability, that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.
In the case of Alex Jones, Baruch told VERIFY Jones certainly has the right to appeal in general, but a direct appeal to the verdict in the Sandy Hook defamation case would “depend on the sufficiency of the evidence or the propriety of the trial court’s rulings.”
“A mistake by his lawyers generally will not support a direct appeal,” Baruch said.
Jones would not have any recourse for the actions of his attorney as it relates to his current trial.
However he could, in theory, bring a claim of legal malpractice against a lawyer who performs incompetently, Shouse California Law Group says.
But, Baruch said in Jones’ case, claiming legal malpractice might not amount to much and wouldn’t help Jones with an appeal.
“To prevail on a legal malpractice claim, he would have to prove not only a mistake but that the mistake changed the ultimate outcome. That might be very difficult here. It would not affect an appeal in any way,” Baruch said.
So we can VERIFY that claims of ineffective counsel in civil cases are not grounds to appeal a verdict.
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