Pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels faces the prospect of nearly $800,000 in legal fees and penalties after lawyers for President Donald Trump asked a court to compel her to pay the sum for a failed defamation suit.
Attorney Charles Harder told Judge S. James Otero on Dec. 3 that his law firm had spent more than 500 hours working on the case, ringing up a legal bill of almost $390,000.
Harder also asked the judge to impose an additional $390,000 in sanctions as a deterrent against a “repeat filer or frivolous defamation cases.” He argued the fees and penalties were deserved because of the extraordinary nature of the defamation case.
Otero didn’t immediately rule on Harder’s request. He noted that fees by Harder’s firm—as high as $840 an hour—were reasonable but the 580 hours spent on the case appeared to be excessive and might be trimmed in his eventual award.
‘Meritless Claim for Defamation’
“This action is virtually unprecedented in American legal history,” Harder wrote in court papers. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, “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.”
Daniels has written a book about her alleged one-night affair with Trump in 2006, and has been active on the media circuit promoting it and her side of the story.
She sued Trump earlier this year seeking to break a non-disclosure agreement she signed days before the 2016 election about the alleged tryst.
Trump has denied the affair took place.
Daniels also claimed that five years after the alleged affair she was threatened to keep quiet by an unidentified man in a Las Vegas parking lot. She then released a composite sketch of the mystery man.
She sued Trump for defamation after he responded to the allegation by tweeting, “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 October Otero ruled that Trump’s statement was “rhetorical hyperbole” against a political adversary and was protected speech under the First Amendment.
Although the lawsuit didn’t get far before Otero tossed it, he said it was a “one-of-a-kind” case that demanded a fair bit of legal work.
“Given a case of this magnitude, you have to err on the side of being thorough,” Otero said.
Daniels has appealed Otero’s decision and her lawyer said on Dec. 3 he expects to prevail at a higher court.
‘Absurd and Outrageous’
Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, who has positioned himself as a Trump foe and is said to be considering a run for president in 2020 as a Democrat, has called the sanctions Trump’s lawyers are asking for “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 said.
He said he would be seeking attorney’s fees against Trump in the ongoing hush money case and he anticipates being awarded a figure that “dwarfs exponentially” what Trump is seeking in the defamation case, possibly exceeding $2 million.
Avenatti earlier faced rebuke from the president in the context of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, when Trump suggested Avenatti was orchestrating false accusations of sexual assault.
“Avenatti is a third-rate lawyer who is good at making false accusations, like he did on me and like he is now doing on Judge Brett Kavanaugh,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sept. 26. “He is just looking for attention and doesn’t want people to look at his past record and relationships—a total low-life!”
Avenatti is a third rate lawyer who is good at making false accusations, like he did on me and like he is now doing on Judge Brett Kavanaugh. He is just looking for attention and doesn’t want people to look at his past record and relationships – a total low-life!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2018
An FBI investigation into sexual assault claims against Kavanaugh cleared him of any wrongdoing and on Oct. 6 he was confirmed to the Supreme Court.
‘Onward and Upward’
Daniels revealed on Dec. 2 that she and Avenatti “sorted [expletive] out” days after she questioned the origin of a fundraising drive he launched on her behalf, and in so doing revealed that he’d sued Trump for defamation without her permission.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) December 2, 2018
Daniels told the Daily Beast that Avenatti had launched the campaign on the website CrowdJustice “without my permission or even my knowledge,” after she questioned him about how money raised through an initial fundraiser had been spent.
The initial fundraiser brought in a reported $580,000 toward Daniels’ expenses; the second fundraiser brought in $4,785 before the page was taken down on Nov. 28.
Avenatti tweeted a breakdown of expenses on Dec. 3, saying “we did not do this for the money.”
There has been a lot of misreporting about the money @StormyDaniels and I raised for her legal costs/expenses. See the real facts below. As you can see, we did not do this for the money. We did it because it was the right thing to do. And we will continue to do so. #Basta pic.twitter.com/q7DYtpeguv
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) December 3, 2018
He also lambasted critical media coverage of him and his potential 2020 White House bid.
“In one breath, certain media outlets state I will have no bearing on the 2020 race and am not a threat,” Avenatti tweeted on Dec. 3. “But they continue to write click bait “hit pieces” meant to discredit me. Which one is it, bc it can’t be both? If I’m not a threat, go do pieces on other ‘viable’ candidates.”
While presidential campaigns typically begin in the spring of the year before the presidential election, experts increasingly point to the phenomenon of the “never-ending campaign,” with potential contenders always on the lookout for opportunities to leverage their exposure and boost their profile.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.