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Fox News defamation trial will begin Tuesday, judge says, without explaining one-day delay

Members of the media outside the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center ahead of the Dominion Voting Systems' defamation trail against Fox News in Wilmington, Delaware, US, on Monday, April 17, 2023. The trial in a $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox Corp. and Fox News over the network's reporting on 2020 election-fraud claims was delayed on the eve of opening arguments. Photographer: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(CNN) — Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis said Monday that the delay in the Fox-Dominion defamation trial “is not unusual” and told the parties that he expects them back on Tuesday to finish jury selection and start the trial.

“I made the decision to delay the start of the trial until tomorrow,” Davis said in court, later adding that “it’s a six-week trial. Things happen… this is not unusual… This does not seem unusual to me.”

The Monday morning hearing was only about four minutes long, and there was no mention of potential settlement talks.

The high-stakes defamation trial against Fox News, initially set to begin with opening statements on Monday, was abruptly delayed on Sunday evening, in an eleventh-hour twist.

Speculation around a potential out-of-court settlement has reached a fever pitch because of the delay and comes after the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday night that Fox was pushing for a last-second deal to avoid trial. The newspaper is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire includes Fox News. If the trial happens as planned, Dominion has the power to force Murdoch to testify in-person.

The proceedings are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday at 9 Wilmington, Delaware.

What to know about the high-stakes trial

The historic defamation lawsuit brought against Fox News by Dominion Voting Systems could have significant ramifications for the right-wing cable channel.

Dominion, an election technology company, sued Fox News in 2021 over the network’s repeated promotion of false claims about the company, including that its voting machines rigged the 2020 election by flipping millions of ballots from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.

The company alleges that people at Fox News acted with actual malice and “recklessly disregarded the truth” when they spread this disinformation about Dominion. To prove “actual malice,” Dominion must convince a jury that people at Fox News who were responsible for these broadcasts knew the Dominion claims were false or recklessly disregarded evidence of falsity — but put them on-air anyway.

Fox has attempted to get the lawsuit tossed. But in a major blow to the right-wing network last month, the judge overseeing the case allowed it to go to trial. He has also prohibited Fox from invoking some key First Amendment defenses, finding they were without merit.

Fox has said it didn’t defame anyone and that the case is a meritless assault on press freedoms. A spokesperson for Fox has said the network “is proud of our 2020 election coverage” and that its coverage “stands in the highest tradition of American journalism.” The company also said “Dominion’s lawsuit is a political crusade in search of a financial windfall, but the real cost would be cherished First Amendment rights.”

Fox has also accused Dominion of generating “noise and confusion” around the case, stating, “the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution,” specifically the First Amendment.

Dominion, meanwhile, is seeking $1.6 billion in damages. They say Fox’s on-air lies destroyed its reputation and is causing election officials to cancel their Dominion contracts. (Fox says the $1.6 billion figure is based on shoddy math and is designed to gin up media attention. Dominion’s internal financials undercut its massive damages claim, Fox says).

Dominion will now need to convince the jury that Fox acted with “actual malice” — showing the right-wing network’s hosts and executives knew what was being said on-air was false but broadcast it anyway, or acted with such a reckless disregard for the truth that they should be held liable.

CNN’s Jon Passantino, Ramishah Maruf, and Catherine Thorbecke contributed