Even if you try to avoid political news, you may have heard about the custody trial (and travails) of ultra-conservative radio host Alex Jones, who was recently stripped of his rights to his children by a Texas jury. While Jones contended that many of his most outrageous public remarks were made in the name of entertainment, his ex-wife and her legal team disagreed, likening him to a “cult leader” who was brainwashing their children. The jury agreed, awarding custody to Jones’s ex-wife, in a 10-2 vote after deliberating for nearly 9 hours.
While this case received a great deal of media exposure due to the fame and flamboyance of the personality involved, there are many other similar custody negotiations and battles that take place under the radar. Are public personalities at risk of having custody removed because of controversial or offensive comments they make on air?
However unfortunate, it would seem that publicly disseminated remarks may be used against public personalities, as well as the public at large, in custody battles where offensive comments may sway the jury.
What evidence was used against Alex Jones in his custody case?
Although Alex Jones’s ex-wife sought to introduce a substantial number of media clips of her ex-husband’s remarks, such as his statements that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax and his claim that police smoke seized marijuana to test its effectiveness, only two video clips were deemed relevant enough to be admissible. These included:
- An Election Night clip of Jones, obviously inebriated, shouting “the age of man is here” and announcing his intent to urinate on a tree; and
- A clip of Jones smoking marijuana (in a state where the use of marijuana is legal) that was first broadcast on a television show.
The impact of these clips on the jury was unclear, but it’s doubtful that they didn’t affect, in some way, jury members that aren’t like-minded. More compelling seemed to be the testimony that Jones was grooming his 14-year-old son to take over the “Infowars empire,” that he had attempted to limit his children’s contact with their mother, and that he was deliberately putting his children in danger by, among other acts, encouraging his 14-year-old son to appear on television after Jones received credible death threats against his family.
Ultimately, the jury determined that Jones’s ex-wife was in the best position to dictate decisions about their three children, including where the children should live.
Could this happen to other entertainers or public personalities who make controversial remarks?
This case is a decidedly unusual one, but other public personalities who espouse unpopular or controversial views may be likely to find themselves facing the same type of legal battle fought by Alex Jones. In the interest of justice, the judge in Jones’s case did her best to eliminate any discussion of political views from the process, concentrating on the real issues — whether either parent could be deemed stable enough to care for three minor children. However, any jury is made up of citizens that obviously have their own political ideals, which may conflict with the ‘evidence’ at hand.
To the extent one’s public comments or actions could be viewed as abusive, illegal, or indicative of mental illness, drug abuse, or similar issues, may be fair game in a custody proceeding; but simply holding and expressing an opinion — even in an offensive way — should not, alone, be sufficient to justify removal or modification of custody.