The founder of Fox News, Roger Ailes, who was ousted from his own company in July 2016, following a series of sexual harassment charges filed by female employees, died Thursday, aged 77. Following his death, the fate of the ongoing lawsuits against him hangs in balance.
Two of the lawsuits filed against Ailes were by former Fox News anchor Andrea Tantaros and contributor Julie Roginsky. While Tantaros is planning to move her case to an appeals court, following an arbitration clause in her contract with her former employer; Roginsky’s case is pending trial in the New York State Supreme Court.
A specific archaic 19th-century New York state law, also referred to as the "dead man’s statute" may pose a serious complication to the sexual harassment cases filed against Ailes. The law prohibits people with stakes in lawsuits from testifying in court about private conversations with individuals or parties who are deceased.
The law has not been frequently invoked in cases involving sexual harassment before. Instead, it has only been drawn up by civil case lawyers during conflicts regarding properties and wills.
However, if this turns out to be one of the exceptions and Ailes’ lawyers decide to bring up the law during court proceedings, it could potentially set back the lawsuits filed by Tantaros and Roginsky, which are largely based on the private conversations between them and Ailes, Reuters reported.
Ailes had been embroiled in claims that he sexually harassed women for more than a year before 21st Century Fox terminated his contract with Fox News. He was given a severance check of $40 million for his 20 years of service to the company.
In an attempt to minimize his financial losses from the lawsuits, Ailes invested more than half of his severance money on a $36 million ocean-facing property at Palm Beach. In addition, Ailes owns four other properties in Cresskill, New Jersey and Garrison, New York.
He is also registered as a resident of the state of Florida in public records, which lets him benefit from the state’s “homestead” laws. Florida’s asset protection law makes it difficult for a current or future creditor to collect on a debtor's assets.
On the event of his death, his wife, Elizabeth Ailes, will likely inherit the property in Florida, on the condition that that there is no existing pre-nuptial agreement barring her from the same.
“I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning,” said his wife, Elizabeth Ailes, the Guardian reported. “Roger was a loving husband to me, to his son Zachary, and a loyal friend to many. He was also a patriot, profoundly grateful to live in a country that gave him so much opportunity to work hard, to rise – and to give back.”
Friends and colleagues of Ailes have also expressed their heartfelt condolences on his death:
According to the medical examiner, Ailes died of subdural hematoma, caused by excessive internal cerebral bleeding due to a fall, in the bathroom of his Florida home, last week. The former Fox News chairman suffered from a preexisting condition of hemophilia that prevents blood clotting, which was a major contributor to his death.