An attorney who represented conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in a defamation case has been ordered to pay nearly $100,000 in sanctions for his misconduct leading up to the trial he lost.
Texas attorney Andino Reynal was ordered to pay $97,169 last month to the parents of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting after Judge Maya Guerra Gamble determined in January that Reynal had violated court proceedings during his attempts to delay the trial by filing bankruptcy for Jones’ far-right misinformation site Infowars.
The new ruling, obtained by HuffPost, was filed on April 25. You can view the filing here.
Reynal made “knowingly groundless statements,” “acted in bad faith,” and “significantly interfered with the Court’s legitimate exercise of core functions,” when he represented Jones throughout his July 2022 trial against Sandy Hook parents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, according to Gamble’s January order granting the motion to sanction Reynal.
The trial, held in Austin, Texas, where Infowars is based, focused on the lies Jones had spread about Lewis and Heslin over the years on his platform.
The two parents lost their son, 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, in the Connecticut school shooting that left 19 other children and six adults dead. Jones used his platform on Infowars to spread lies that the shooting was fake, that the kids never died and that their parents were actors. The lies inspired Infowars followers to subject Sandy Hook families to near-constant abuse and harassment over the next decade. Meanwhile, Jones saw his profits go up on days he featured lies about the shooting.
The consequences finally caught up to Jones last year when he was hit with a $45 million ruling against him. Later that year, during a trial in Connecticut not far from where the shooting took place, a separate jury ordered Jones to pay an additional $1.4 billion to several other Sandy Hook families.
Now, Jones’ own lawyer will have to answer for what Gamble called a deliberate effort to avoid trial by filing for bankruptcy “for an abusive and improper purpose.”
Reynal told HuffPost that he acted legitimately.
“There was no bad faith here,” Reynal said in an email. “I am confident the appellate courts will see this for what it is and that we will get a reversal of this adverse ruling.”
A ‘Bad Faith Scheme’
Just days before the first Sandy Hook defamation trial was set to begin in late April 2022, Infowars, one of two companies tied to Jones ― filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Texas. The sudden filing caused the Sandy Hook trial to be delayed until July 2022, a move was made by lawyers representing the Sandy Hook parents called a “bad faith scheme.”
In her initials Jan. 13 ruling granting sanctions, Gamble agreed with the Houston law firm Farrar & Ball that Reynal was attempting to delay the trial.
“The Court finds Mr. Reynal acted without valid cause and for the sole purpose of avoiding trial,” the ruling said.
Morgan Stringer, a legal analyst and lawyer who has closely followed the Jones trials and bankruptcy cases, told HuffPost that filing for bankruptcy delayed not just the trial, but all of the legal proceedings against Infowars.
The bankruptcy filing was “clearly an attempt to stall the litigation because Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows you to reorganize your finances, so any pending litigation against the company is then stayed,” Stringer said. “This was a stall tactic by [Free Speech Systems].”
Gamble also sanctioned Reynal over a sudden change of ownership of Infowars, LLC, when former Infowars news director Rob Dew was signed over as “its 100% equity holder, a fact which was not disclosed to the Plaintiffs,” before trial, according to the filing.
“If Rob Dew owns Infowars and not FSS or Alex, then that could potentially be used to hide assets in, so when it comes time to enforce a judgment or even disclose finances in a bankruptcy, then Rob Dew would be the 100 percent equity owner , not FSS or Alex,” Stringer said. “Again, this feels like something that you would read in one of those ’10 Tricks That Lawyers Don’t Want You To Know’ articles that contain the worst legal advice ever.”
Reynal should have told the plaintiffs when Dew was made equity holder of Infowars, Gamble wrote.
“Mr. Reynal was obligated to supplement his client’s discovery responses,” the ruling said.
In a statement, Farrar & Ball attorney Mark Bankston said Reynal’s conduct during the case has been “ridiculous.”
“Our clients are pleased that not only will there be consequences for Mr. Jones, but also for the lawyers who facilitated the ridiculous misconduct in this case,” Bankston said. “Hopefully, this will send a message to future attention-seeking attorneys that are running cover for a willfully dissobedient defendant like Jones is not the best career move.”
The sanctions against Reynal might not be surprising to those who have followed him in the courtroom. In a November hearing discussing possible sanctions, Gamble made clear that her patience with Reynal had run thin.
“Frankly, Mr. Reynal, I’m not happy with much of your conduct during the trial,” Gamble said during the hearing. “Quite a bit of it.”
‘The Worst Day Of My Legal Career’
Even though the sanctions against Reynal focused on his attempts to delay the trial, he made several other blunders that would make any other experienced lawyer cringe.
Just two days into the first Sandy Hook trial, Reynal was seen giving the middle finger to plaintiffs’ attorney Bankston after Reynal was blocked from submitting video evidence.
Gamble admonished both lawyers the following day.
“The next time anyone wants to have an argument, you take it outside,” she said at the time. “You do not have it in here.”
Reynal’s biggest embarrassment, however, came at the end of the trial in early August, when Bankston confronted Jones on the stand with Jones’ own text messages, which had been turned over to Bankston ― accidentally ― by none other than Jones’ own legal team .
“Did you know 12 days ago your attorneys messed up and sent me an entire digital copy of your entire cellphone, with every text message you’ve sent for the past two years?” Bankston asked Jones on the stand. “And when informed, did not take any steps to identify those texts as privileged?”
The text messages included conversations between Jones and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. (HuffPost has published the full details of their conversation here.) The contents of his phone were also turned over to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Reynal blamed a paralegal for the massive blunder and later called it “the worst day of my legal career.” What’s more, the release of Jones’ phone records also revealed confidential documents that included medical records for some of the Sandy Hook families. Connecticut Judge Barbara Bellis, who oversaw Jones’ second trial that ended in a more than $1 billion verdict, said during a disciplinary hearing in January that Reynal had violated ethics rules but declined to sanction him.
Stringer, the legal analyst, said Reynal’s nearly $100,000 sanctions were a rarity in the legal world.
“I would say it’s rare to see an attorney sanctioned in this manner and with that dollar amount,” Stringer said. “I have never seen that.”
Stringer added that despite the rare sanctions, the ruling is a fair one.
“Free Speech Systems and Alex Jones have shown a pattern of bad faith and discovery abuse so large that you could make a quilt out of it, and Reynal enabled them,” Stringer said. “In the context of this case, it is not a harsh ruling at all. this is completely fair.”
Reynal told HuffPost he plans to appeal the ruling. However, the court ruling points out that Reynal should appeal and lose, he could end up owing an additional $55,000. And should Reynal choose to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court and lose, he would have to pay up an additional $61,600.