The New York Times and a consortium of media organizations are asking a judge to rule whether Fox News improperly redacted portions of texts and email exchanges that were introduced as evidence in Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against the network.
Dominion and Fox settled the case last month for $787.5 million, in what is believed to be the largest out-of-court payout in a defamation case. But left unaddressed was a legal challenge filed by The Times in January that sought to unseal some of what Fox and Dominion had marked as confidential in their legal filings.
On Monday, a lawyer representing The Times wrote to Judge Eric M. Davis of Delaware Superior Court saying that the issue was not moot simply because the case had been settled. There is strong legal precedent, the letter said, affirming the public’s right to understand what unfolded in cases that are resolved before they go to trial.
“Here, the public’s interest in having an accurate and complete record of documents filed with the court is imperative to its understanding of the nature of the parties’ claims and the court’s bases for the many rulings it made prior to the settlement,” the letter said.
The case was focused on whether Fox News had knowingly aired false claims about Dominion and its voting machines after the 2020 election. Under the law in Delaware, where the dispute was being heard, parties in a lawsuit have to have “good cause” to keep information confidential. The reasons for doing so usually involve protecting financial figures or trade secrets or other proprietary information. Judge Davis has noted to lawyers for both sides in the case that they were not entitled to mark something as confidential because it was embarrassing.
Both sides redacted information from depositions, private communications and legal filings. But Fox’s redactions were far more extensive, leaving large portions of what its hosts, producers and executives said to each other over email and text and in their testimony hidden behind black segments of text in court documents.
Among the redacted text were the private messages of Tucker Carlson, the Fox host who was fired from the network last week. The Fox Corporation board learned just before the trial was set to begin about some offensive and crude messages from Mr. Carlson that had been redacted, setting off a crisis at the top of the company.
David McCraw, deputy general counsel for The Times, said that the case was historic and that the full record of it should not be kept secret.
“The public has a right to know as fully as possible how the parties made their case to the court,” Mr. McCraw said. “Transparency is central to our judicial system, and the settlement should not be used to deprive the public of knowing what took place in a public court proceeding.”
Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The decision to leave information confidential ultimately resides with the judge, who has not reversed any of the redactions so far.