Judge questions Fox News bid to shake Smartmatic's $2.7 bln election lawsuit

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON, Aug 17 (Reuters) - A judge on Tuesday appeared skeptical of an effort by Fox Corp to dismiss a $2.7 billion lawsuit alleging Fox News hosts and guests made defamatory claims about the voting technology firm Smartmatic during the network's coverage of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

During a virtual oral argument, New York state judge David Cohen made comments sympathetic to Smartmatic, a small company that sued Fox and two of Donald Trump's former lawyers, Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, after the attorneys falsely accused it of rigging votes against the former president.

The judge questioned whether there was any basis whatsoever for claims Powell and Giuliani made about Smartmatic on Fox's airwaves, like that the company was banned in Texas.

"How is that not defamatory?," the judge said. "Did any evidence ever come to light that Smartmatic was banned in Texas?"

The judge asked whether former Fox News host Lou Dobbs ever attempted to ascertain proof of this claim.

Fox Corp lawyer Paul Clement responded that those allegations were made during an interview Dobbs conducted with Giuliani, and that Fox News had a constitutional right to report on newsworthy claims made by Trump's lawyers.

The judge noted that experts have rejected the conspiracy theory that the election was hacked, adding that even Fox News host Tucker Carlson blasted Powell for failing to back the theory with evidence.

The judge asked whether that should have made Fox News reconsider the accuracy of its reporting.

Clement said that Fox was merely reporting on newsworthy claims made by Trump's legal teams, not endorsing the theories.

Fox News, Giuliani, and Powell have all separately been sued for defamation by another voting software company, Dominion Voting Systems. Last week, a judge denied a bid by Powell and Giuliani to dismiss the claims against them.

Smartmatic’s technology was only used in one place for the Nov. 3 presidential election: Los Angeles County, which Biden won. (Reporting by Jan Wolfe; additional reporting by Helen Coster; editing by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis)