President Donald Trump recently prevailed in the defamation lawsuit brought against him by former adult film star Stormy Daniels — real name Stephanie Clifford. Daniels was ordered to pay Trump’s legal fees after the judge dismissed her case.
Trump’s attorneys submitted the final “bill” to the court on Monday and requested that Daniels pay nearly $800,000 in legal fees. The sum includes roughly $390,000 for more than 500 billable hours, plus an equal amount in penalties to deter others from filing similarly frivolous lawsuits against the president.
Charles Harder, the lead attorney for Trump’s team, defended the hefty final sum to the judge by explaining the “unprecedented” nature of defending a sitting U.S. president from a highly-publicized yet frivolous defamation lawsuit.
“This action is virtually unprecedented in American legal history,” Harder argued to the court. He said Daniels had “not only brought a meritless claim for defamation against the sitting president of the United States, but she also has engaged, along with her attorney, in massive national publicity.”
An “unprecedented” lawsuit
Michael Avenatti, Daniels’ notorious attorney, called the suggested penalty “absurd and outrageous.”
“You can’t just pick a number out of thin air in an effort to put my client under Donald Trump’s thumb and intimidate her,” Avenatti added.
For his part, Judge S. James Otero declined to issue a ruling on the legal fees on Monday, nor did he indicate whether he would support the requested sum or come up with a number of his own. While Otero questioned the number of hours that had been billed in the case, he appeared to accept the associated rates — as much as $840 per hour — as being within reason.
“Rhetorical hyperbole” isn’t defamation
Daniels has alleged that Trump had an affair with her in 2006, an allegation that Trump has denied. In a separate lawsuit filed against Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen, Daniels is attempting to extricate herself from a non-disclosure agreement she signed in exchange for $130,000 in 2016. In spite of the NDA, she came forward with her story, which included allegations of a threat she had received to remain quiet in 2011.
Daniels had a composite sketch drawn of the mystery man who allegedly threatened her. It didn’t take long for people to notice that the sketch strongly resembled Daniels’ ex-husband, which Trump mentioned in an April tweet, writing, “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!”
A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)! https://t.co/9Is7mHBFda
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018
In the defamation lawsuit, Daniels claimed to have been defamed by the “total con job” phrase, but the judge ruled that Trump’s tweet was mere “rhetorical hyperbole” that was fully protected by the First Amendment. He dismissed the case and awarded legal fees in the matter to Trump, which brings us to where we are now.
Daniels and Avenatti thought they could sue the president over hyperbolic remarks made on social media, a laughable claim given all that is said on a daily basis by others on social media — including Avenatti — that could be considered defamatory or libelous.
But the judge wasn’t buying what they were selling, and now Daniels could be on the hook for nearly $800,000 for wasting the time of the court and Trump’s attorneys in dealing with her frivolous claims.