LOS ANGELES (CN) – President Donald Trump’s lawyers said at a hearing Monday that adult film star Stormy Daniels should pay about $778,000 in attorney’s fees and sanctions after her defamation lawsuit against the president was tossed by a federal judge.
Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti called the amounts “absurd and outrageous.”
The flap stems from Daniels’ claims a man threatened her in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011 over an unreleased InTouch magazine story in which she planned to detail what she calls a one-night affair with Trump. This past April she and Avenatti released an artist’s sketch of the man, which led Trump to comment on a Twitter user’s side-by-side comparison of the sketch and Daniels estranged husband, who the commenter said resembled each other.
Trump wrote, “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!”
Daniels sued, claiming the president’s comment made it sound like she fabricated the crime and the existence of the assailant – a violation of the law in several states, according to her lawsuit.
But U.S. District Judge James Otero found Daniels failed to make even a basic case of defamation under Texas law – where Daniels lives – and he agreed Trump’s tweet was “‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States,” noting Daniels is Trump’s political adversary of sorts.
Otero also found Daniels should be liable for attorney fees. Trump seeks about $389,000 in attorney’s fees and the same amount in sanctions to dissuade Daniels from filing similar lawsuits.
On Monday, Trump’s attorney Charles Harder called Daniels “a repeat filer of frivolous defamation cases” and sanctions would provide a deterrent. Harder also said five attorneys spent a total of 584 hours working on the case for the president.
Avenatti said the amount of time spent on initial strategy for the lawsuit was too much. Otero agreed but said the hourly attorney rates, like $841.64 for Harder, who has expertise in defamation law, is within the range of reason.
Otero said he was not going to do a line-by-line breakdown of the work done by Trump’s legal team but said that when a case involves a sitting president you can’t blame an attorney for being detail-oriented.
Before Monday’s hearing, Harder filed a supplemental declaration raising the amount being sought by about $40,000. He said the amount included time spent preparing for the hearing and time his legal team has dedicated to keeping track of Avenatti’s comments to the press – including a Twitter message Avenatti sent out earlier in the day about the case.
Avenatti stammered and spoke up over Harder, with both men speaking over each other.
“Let’s not get into it,” Otero said. “There’s a lot of noise. The court wants to stay focused on the law.”
Outside the courthouse, Avenatti said Daniels would appeal both the dismissal of her case and the attorney fee ruling. He said any attorney fees awarded in the defamation case will be dwarfed by attorney fees awarded in her lawsuit to dissolve a nondisclosure agreement she claims isn’t valid because Trump never signed it.
“The NDA course is where it’s at, ladies and gentlemen,” said Avenatti. “You don’t count the final score at the end of the first quarter.”
Prior to the 2016 election, Daniels says she was offered a $130,000 hush settlement to keep quiet about her 2006 affair with Trump. Trump continues to deny Daniels’ allegations.
Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen testified the president made secret payments to two women “for the purpose of influencing the election” when he pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
This past week, Cohen pleaded guilty to charges of lying to Congress in August 2017 regarding a Moscow real estate project he pursued on behalf of then-candidate Trump. Mueller personally signed the 10-page criminal information against Cohen unsealed Nov. 29.
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