Veteran mediator Jerry Roscoe was on a relaxing cruise from Budapest to Bucharest last Sunday, celebrating his 70th birthday, when he received an urgent call.
The voice on the other end of the phone was asking Roscoe if he would serve as a last minute mediator in the mass defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News. The trial was hours away, and Dominion planned to force Rupert Murdoch and Tucker Carlson onto the stand shortly after opening statements, according to people familiar with the matter.
As Roscoe sailed aboard the liner, he didn’t hesitate to accept the unexpected task of brokering a deal to avoid the media law trial of the century.
“I said yes,” Roscoe told on Wednesday, recalling advice his father gave him at age 16 about taking work assignments while on vacation. “My father told me that if someone needs you, he calls you, and if they need you, you go.”
The trial’s lead attorneys, Justin Nelson of Dominion and Dan Webb of Fox, had negotiated a settlement over the weekend before Roscoe was called, but they were “very estranged” and it didn’t materialize, one of the attorneys told. people familiar with the matter.
Late Sunday night, Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis received notification that the parties had retained Roscoe, a JAMS mediator. Davis was quick to surprise announce a one-day postponement of the start of the trial to give the mediator a chance to close a deal, though he seemed uninterested in granting further postponements.
Frantic negotiations began on Monday.
In the 24 hours that followed, the talks culminated in a historic settlement, which closed shortly after 2 p.m. Miami time Tuesday, avoiding what would have been a high-profile trial that would have forced the conservative news network to acknowledge more the electoral lies he spouted in the wake of the 2020 presidential race.
“It was against the clock,” Roscoe acknowledged.
In addition to speaking with Roscoe, also spoke with multiple people with direct knowledge of the events leading up to the $787.5 million settlement, the largest publicly known settlement for a defamation case in the United States against a news outlet. As part of the settlement, Fox also “acknowledged” the court’s finding that it had repeatedly made false statements about Dominion, but notably was not required to issue an on-air rectification or retraction.
Attorneys for Fox News and Dominion were awaiting a trial at the last minute.
Last week, Dominion had notified Fox News that one of its first witnesses would be Rupert Murdoch, the 92-year-old chairman of Fox Corporation, a person familiar with the matter told CNN. Tucker Carlson, the radical host who hosts Fox News’ 8 pm show, was one of the first people Dominion planned to take to the stand in Wilmington, Delaware.
And after the jury was sworn in this Tuesday morning, everything indicated that the trial would go ahead as planned. Dominion’s attorney, Stephen Shackelford, was seen eating at the court’s basement cafeteria Subway restaurant during his lunch break, immediately before he was due to deliver his opening statement. The members of the newly constituted jury also ate for the first, and only time, in court. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, Roscoe was closing the deal that ultimately avoided the six-week trial.
“The presence in the courtroom tends to crystallize the risk-benefit approach to litigation,” Roscoe told CNN. “Once the jury is out and you’re looking at the people who are going to decide your fate, it’s an eye-opening experience.”
Rumors of a settlement reached new heights Tuesday afternoon after opening arguments scheduled for 1:30 pm were inexplicably delayed and the jury did not return to court as scheduled.
After the deal closed at 2 p.m., lawyers quickly drew up the paperwork, which was signed moments before Davis walked into the courtroom shortly before 4 p.m., people familiar with the matter said.
Davis then announced that the parties had reached an agreement, surprising observers and drawing audible sighs from reporters inside the courtroom. He then dismissed the jury and the case was closed.
It was not easy to reach an agreement. Roscoe, a world-renowned mediator who has even resolved war conflicts in the Balkans, told CNN that it was one of the most difficult missions he had ever faced.
“It was one of the most challenging cases because of the magnitude of the dispute and the visibility,” he said, adding: “I would not characterize any aspect of this mediation as easy.”