(Bloomberg) -- Fox News TV hosts including Tucker Carlson and Maria Bartiromo, along with Fox Corp. Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch, will likely be forced to testify during a trial next month over more than $1 billion in defamation claims against the network by Dominion Voting Systems.

Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis told lawyers in the case on Wednesday that key witnesses will be expected to answer questions in person during the six-week trial, which is set to start April 17. Davis said he’d rule later on Fox’s motion to dismiss the case before trial. 

Dominion sued Fox, claiming it aired bogus claims by its hosts and guests who accused the voting-machine maker of rigging the 2020 presidential election to benefit Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. In pretrial depositions, Murdoch and several hosts said they doubted the allegations against Dominion.

Read More: Murdoch Testified That Fox Hosts ‘Endorsed’ Election Lie

During the hearing on Wednesday, Fox lawyers told the judge Dominion had inflated its damage estimates and couldn’t prove it had suffered more than $1 billion in losses.

The whopping estimate reflects Dominion’s manipulation of the damage calculation, including counting lost sales of voting machines that hadn’t actually occurred yet or been secured by contract, Fox attorney Erin Murphy argued. 

“There are other reasons” Dominion lost business, including operational and security problems with their machines, Murphy said.

Dominion’s lawyers contend key players at Fox never believed the fraud allegations, but sat on their hands while lawyer Sidney Powell and other allies of then-President Donald Trump went on air to accuse Dominion of conspiring with Democrats and foreign governments to rig the vote.

Losing Business

The voting-machine maker says state governments across the US are shying away from its products in the wake of the false claims about election fraud, chopping its value by more than $1 billion.

Fox’s legal team contends the network didn’t defame Dominion by reporting on issues tied to a story of national importance and that its actions are protected free speech under the First Amendment. Murphy said Wednesday there was no evidence of wrongdoing on the network’s part to justify Dominion’s bid for punitive damages.

“The jury shouldn’t punish us for sharing one of the most important news stories” in the wake of the 2020 election, Murphy said.

In a separate statement, Fox said, “This case is ultimately about the First Amendment protections of the media’s absolute need to cover the news. Fox will continue to fiercely advocate for the rights of free speech and a free press.”

Stephen Shackleford Jr., an attorney for Dominion, countered that the lawsuit against Fox isn’t “the normal defamation” case because the network repeatedly served up untrue statements about the voting-machine maker’s role in the 2020 election to woo back hard-right voters.

“The evidence will show that Dominion was a valuable, rapidly growing business that was executing on its plan to expand prior to the time that Fox began endorsing baseless lies about Dominion voting machines,” a Dominion spokesperson said in a statement. “Following Fox’s defamatory statements, Dominion’s business suffered enormously, and its claim for compensatory damages is based on industry-standard valuation metrics and conservative methodologies. We look forward to proving this aspect of our case at trial.”

The case is Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News Network LLC, N21C-03-257 EMD, Delaware Superior Court (Wilmington) 


(Updates with statements from Dominion and Fox.)

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