New York -- Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones cannot use his personal bankruptcy to escape paying at least $1.1 billion in defamation damages stemming from his repeated lies about the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, a U.S. bankruptcy judge ruled Thursday.
Bankruptcy can be used to wipe out debts and legal judgments, but not if they result from "willful or malicious injury" caused by the debtor, according to a decision by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Lopez in Houston, Texas.
Courts in Connecticut and Texas have already ruled that Jones intentionally defamed relatives of school children killed in the mass shooting, and they have ordered Jones to pay $1.5 billion in damages.
Lopez ruled that more than $1.1 billion of those verdicts, awarded for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, cannot be wiped away in bankruptcy. But he ruled that other parts of the verdicts, including $324 million in attorneys' fees that were awarded as punitive damages in the Connecticut case, could possibly be discharged.
It was not clear whether those punitive damages were attributable to "willful" and "malicious" lies, or whether they could instead be attributed to merely "reckless" conduct, Lopez wrote. Lopez said he will hold a trial to sort out the precise amount of the damages that could be discharged.
Attorneys for Jones and the Sandy Hook families did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jones' attorneys had argued that he had not lied and that his conduct was not malicious, saying in court papers that Jones "never said something on air that he did not believe to be true."
Jones claimed for years that the 2012 killing of 20 students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was staged with actors as part of a government plot to seize Americans’ guns. He has since acknowledged the shooting occurred, but plaintiffs said Jones cashed in for years off his lies about the massacre.
Jones and his media company, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy protection in December and July last year, respectively.
Jones could face two more defamation trials for plaintiffs who have not yet received a final judgment in their cases.
Lopez ruled Thursday that Jones could not escape the damages to be awarded in one of those cases because Jones has already been found liable for defaming Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, whose six-year-old son Noah was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting. Jones falsely said that Veronique De La Rosa was an actor who "faked" a CNN interview about her son's death.
Reporting by Dietrich Knauth; editing by Diane Craft, David Gregorio, Alexia Garamfalvi and Rod Nickel