Judge in Dominion case admonishes Fox lawyers for allegedly withholding discovery and misleading the court about Rupert Murdoch's role

Days before the Dominion Voting Systems' lawsuit against Fox News and Fox Corp. was set to go to trial, the judge in the case admonished Fox's lawyers for allegedly not handing over key documents that could show Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch's crucial decision-making role at the network. The judge is reportedly on the verge of appointing a special master to look into the matter.

NBC News is reporting that the judge has sanctioned Fox, and that “the sanction gives Dominion a chance to conduct another deposition, at Fox’s expense.”

CNN also detailed more from the courtroom:

The judge overseeing Dominion Voting Systems’ massive defamation case against Fox News said Wednesday that he plans to appoint an outside attorney to investigate whether the right-wing network lied to the court to withhold key evidence, after repeatedly expressing exasperation and frustration with Fox’s attorneys.

“I am very concerned… that there have been misrepresentations to the court. This is very serious,” Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis said Wednesday at a pretrial hearing in Wilmington.

The extraordinary move, on the brink of the trial starting next week, is the latest blow to Fox News as it tries to fend off the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit that Dominion filed in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.

Davis said he would appoint a so-called “special master” to investigate whether Fox previously made assertions to the court that were “untrue or negligent” when it said Rupert Murdoch was only an officer at Fox Corporation and didn’t have any role in Fox News – and when it said it had fulfilled all its obligations in the discovery process. This distinction about Murdoch may have narrowed what Fox turned over as part of the discovery process – like internal emails, text messages and other material.

“I’m very uncomfortable right now,” Davis said, after dressing down Fox’s lawyers from the bench.

The special master will look into what sanctions might be appropriate against Fox, including potentially instructing jurors in the case that Fox inappropriately blocked Dominion from obtaining key evidence.

The judge ordered Fox to preserve “any and all communications” related to the Murdoch issue.

Per Erik Wemple, media critic for The Washington Post, some of the documents could relate to communications regarding a proposed special for Fox chief political anchor Bret Baier to look into and debunk false claims of election fraud. (NPR's David Folkenflik broke that story earlier this week.) Other documents allegedly relate to claims that there are secret Fox recordings of Rudy Giuliani; that claim was made by a former producer for Tucker Carlson and Maria Bartiromo who is now suing the network.

As of now, it is not entirely clear what this means for the trial, which was due to start jury selection on April 13.