How a Case Against Fox News Tore Apart a Media-Fighting Law Firm

Last April, dozens of lawyers and their guests gathered at the Columbus Inn in Wilmington, Del. The revered restaurant, with roots tracing back more than two centuries, was once a hangout for Buffalo Bill. Yet on this cloudless night, the crowd would have been happy to be partying almost anywhere.

Hours earlier, the lawyers and their client, Dominion Voting Systems, had negotiated an extraordinary $787 million settlement with Fox News. The deal was struck moments before opening arguments in a hotly anticipated defamation trial, in which Fox was accused of airing inflammatory lies that Dominion had thwarted Donald J. Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Now the company’s two main law firms could enjoy the spoils.

Susman Godfrey would pocket a thick slice of the settlement that Fox had just wired over.

Clare Locke, a smaller firm that specializes in the niche field of defamation law, wouldn’t get a cut of the settlement. But Dominion had already paid it millions of dollars in fees, and the victory offered the firm the potential for something even greater.

Run by the husband-and-wife team of Tom Clare and Libby Locke, the firm had helped popularize efforts by wealthy and powerful clients to attack news organizations and delegitimize or kill unfavorable articles. Ms. Locke in particular had taken to publicly arguing that much of the news media was unethical, though she also voiced support for free speech.

The triumph against Fox gave the firm’s founders an opportunity to widen their appeal. They could argue that Clare Locke was not an enemy of the free press or the First Amendment, but a champion of truth and a guardian of democracy.

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