SALEM, Ore. (CN) — Oregon’s senior congressman, 15-term Democrat Peter DeFazio, won his challenge of reduced attorney fees in an unsuccessful lawsuit from Republican rival Art Robinson, who claimed billboards in the 2012 congressional depicted him in false light.
The Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday found that the trial court abused its discretion when it reduced DeFazio’s attorney fees by 75 percent.
DeFazio has represented Oregon’s 4th Congressional District for 30 years. The district, which includes the progressive cities of Eugene and Corvallis, also includes rural areas with largely Republican constituents. Robinson has run against DeFazio in the past four elections.
Robinson, a chemist who lives on a ranch in rural Southwest Oregon, calls climate change a hoax and is a promoter of homeschooling. His congressional campaigns have been supported by hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who has spent millions of dollars backing conservative candidates in recent years.
DeFazio attacked Robinson’s right-wing political and social views in the 2012 campaign, and Robinson fired back with a lawsuit in Josephine County. Robinson claimed DeFazio called him a “nut job” and characterized the ranch where he lives as a “survivalist compound.”
He claimed that DeFazio campaign depicted him in a false light through deceptive billboard messages.
The billboards showed images of Robinson with quotes such as: “Art Robinson Says: Public Schools Should Be Abolished” and “Energy company CEOs shouldn’t pay taxes.”
Robinson claimed the ads were meant to deceive voters by presenting what appeared to be direct quotes from him. One-third of voters in the district thought the billboards were paid for by Robinson, he said in the lawsuit, citing polls he conducted himself.
DeFazio moved to dismiss, claiming the billboards violated no laws, and that Robinson’s claims were preempted by federal law. The court agreed, and dismissed, but it reduced DeFazio’s requested attorney fee award of $57,289 by 75 percent, which he appealed.
The three-judge appellate panel agreed with DeFazio that the trial court misunderstood the timing of when he incurred the attorney fees, and reduced the fees partly because DeFazio used an anti-SLAPP procedure during litigation.
The panel also found that the hourly rate submitted for DeFazio’s attorneys was reasonable, and should not have been reduced.
In vacating the reduced award, Judge James Egan directed the trial court to consider the timing of the attorney fees, and DeFazio’s use of anti-SLAPP.
Egan was joined in the decision by Presiding Judge Rex Armstrong and Chief Judge Erika Hadlock.
DeFazio and Robinson faced off again in 2016, and DeFazio won again, by more than 60,000 votes.