Justin Nelson has always had a reputation as a ‘go to’ lawyer in high stakes litigation but his major win in the defamation claim against Fox News has just elevated the ‘go to’ to ‘must have’.
The win against Fox News is the largest defamation case in US legal history and saw voting equipment company Dominion end a dispute over knowingly false broadcasts that allegedly saw the company involved in a plot to steal the 2020 election.
The battle pitched the Democrat litigator and the Susman Godfrey legal team that included key litigator Stephen Shackelford against conservative media maven Rupert Murdoch.
For Nelson, it was both a politically-charged high stakes legal showdown, but also a major win for the litigator and his firm, further elevating his own political potential too.
The Susman litigators were up against a squadron of experienced litigators for Fox, including former US Solicitor General Paul Clement and veteran Chicago trial lawyer Dan Webb, the co-executive chairman of Winston & Strawn.
Nelson is a partner at the Houston law firm Susman Godfrey and teaches at the University of Texas law school.
He was also the 2018 Democratic nominee for Texas attorney general where he came within 3.7 percentage points of being elected Texas attorney general in 2018.
Born: Houston. His mother is a travel agent and his father a labor union lawyer.
Education: He attended Yale University and a law degree from Columbia Law School, where he graduated valedictorian of my class.
Career: He is a former law clerk to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (pictured) at the United States Supreme Court and for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
He founded and ran an organization called One Nation One Vote, which wants to elect the President of the United States by popular vote
- Lawdragon 500 Leading Litigator (2022)
- Recommended Lawyer, Dispute Resolution: General Commercial Disputes, The Legal 500 (2018, 2019)
- Recommended Lawyer, IAM Patent 1000
- John Ordronaux Prize for Highest Academic Average in Graduating Class
- James Kent Scholar, 1997-98, 1998-99, 1999-2000
- Articles Editor, Columbia Law Review (1999-2000)
- American Lawyer’s Litigator of the Week in 2010 for his work related to the Washington Mutual litigation.
He has taught Advanced Constitutional Law on the Law of the Political Process and has served as the Chair of the Economics of the Profession Committee in the American Bar Association’s Intellectual Property Division. He is a Fellow of the American Bar Association and the Texas Bar Association. He also teaches Legislation & Statutory Interpretation as an adjunct professor at The University of Texas School of Law.
Personal: Nelson lives in Austin with his wife and three children.
Major Effort From Big Ticket Firm
Susman Godfrey is known as a litigation powerhouse, ranking right atop our LawFuel Best Boutique Law Firm list and is known for taking big ticket lawsuits, often using more adventurous alternative fee or contingency fee arrangements.
Certainly the win against Fox News will see a major payday for Nelson, Shackelford and the firm.
It is not known what the deal was for the Dominion case, but it will be very large and will doubtless involve some ‘mixed fee’ arrangement, as reported by Bloomberg.
The battle pitched both major protagonists but also the increasingly divided US electorate in a pitched fight over the Trump-alleged ‘stolen election’.
The voting technology company “fought to bring the truth to light,” Shackelford said via email. He added that he’s never represented a company “that has ever had to go through what Dominion has.”
When he made his first run for public office in 2018, Nelson sought to parlay his reputation as a one-time law clerk for then-Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and his status as one of Texas’ top private attorneys into a victory in his uphill effort to unseat Paxton. He sought to play up Paxton’s legal trouble, which the incumbent insisted was unfounded and politically motivated.
Nelson’s most memorable campaign commercial featured courthouse security footage of Paxton pocketing an expensive pen that was left in a basket by the person who had preceded him into the metal-detecting equipment.
The Fox News/Murdoch Victory
The massive settlement against Fox News and the Murdoch media empire is a major win for Nelson.
For Rupert Murdoch, it could herald further major losses too following the ‘stolen election’ claims made by Fox.
If Smartmatic wins its $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox, the total bill for the network’s conduct after the 2020 election could increase significantly. However, despite the potential costs associated with the Dominion case, Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch has faced even greater financial consequences in the past.
Over the past decade, Murdoch’s tabloid newspaper empire in the United Kingdom has been embroiled in a costly phone hacking scandal. According to a 2021 investigation by Press Gazette, a British publication focused on the media industry, the financial fallout of the scandal has exceeded £1 billion, or $1.24 billion.
Press Gazette tallied the disclosed costs associated with the scandal from 2011 to 2020, including legal fees, damages, and expenses related to the restructuring of Murdoch’s UK media empire. The costs have continued to rise since 2020.