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President Donald Trump’s lawyer Charles Harder is using the Twitter posts of Stormy Daniel’s attorney Michael Avenatti against him in a dispute over legal fees.
Daniels in April sued Trump under her legal name, Stephanie Clifford, claiming the president defamed her on Twitter. (Clifford recently told The Daily Beast that she didn’t want to sue.) Avenatti had shared a sketch of a man who he said threatened Clifford to “leave Mr. Trump alone” in a parking lot in 2011 after she had talked to In Touch Weekly about their alleged affair. In response, Trump tweeted, “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!”
Trump’s legal team won a motion to dismiss the lawsuit under Texas’ anti-SLAPP statute, which brings an early end to frivolous lawsuits arising from protected activity like speech about a topic of public concern. (Clifford lives in Texas, and Harder argued that the state’s law should apply because any alleged injury from the defamation would have occurred there.)
U.S. District Court Judge James Otero granted the motion and found “the tweet in question constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States,” which he says is protected by the First Amendment.
The statute provides an award of “reasonable” attorneys’ fees to a defendant who prevails on an anti-SLAPP motion — but Avenatti says Harder is asking for too much.
Avenatti argues that the fees are “staggering and grossly inflated.” He says the amount of time spent on the matter is “extreme and excessive,” that some of the fees requested aren’t directly related to the SLAPP fight and that the “hourly rates requested by Mr. Trump for his attorneys are similarly unreasonable.”
Initially, the fee request was just more than $341,000, but now it’s nearly $390,000 because of the fees incurred since then. Avenatti suggests the appropriate award is about $25,000.
In a Monday filing, Harder points out that the hourly rate requested actually appears to be lower than what Avenatti’s team is charging Clifford. He quotes a Dec. 3 tweet from Avenatti that says, “Collectively, we have spent a total of over 2,381 billable hours. At our standard hourly rates, this time equates to approximately $1,638,390.”
Then, Harder does the math.
“According to the figures contained in Mr. Avenatti’s tweet, the average hourly rates billed by attorneys at his firm for their representation of Plaintiff is $688.11 ($1,638,390 divided by 2,381 billable hours),” writes Harder. “In contrast, the average hourly rate of Mr. Trump’s attorneys for the fees sought in the Motion is $670.52 ($389,403.11 divided by 580.75 hours).”
Otero heard arguments Monday and took the matter under submission.
In other entertainment legal news:
— Conan O’Brien has asked a California federal judge to schedule his joke theft trial during his show’s hiatus in May. The host was sued in 2015 by Alex Kaseberg, who claims he tweeted a series of jokes and later saw them delivered on television by O’Brien. “Conan will be taping through April and early May 2019, such that many of Defendants’ witnesses, including Mr. O’Brien, along with the show’s producers and writers, will be unavailable at that time,” states the filing. Kaseberg would prefer the trial begin in April.
— Disney has apparently reached a settlement with a man who it sued for running a business that allegedly sent knock-off versions of famous characters like Darth Vader and Iron Man to children’s birthday parties. U.S. District Court Judge George Daniels in August denied Disney’s motion for summary judgment and threw out most of its trademark claims, pointing out that it’s “adults, not children” who plan parties and there’s no evidence that anyone who paid for the unlicensed characters thought they were getting the real deal. A stipulation of dismissal was filed on Friday.
— Pokemon Go developer Niantic has come to a settlement with a class of landowners who filed nuisance complaints after the augmented reality game caused people to trespass or lurk outside their homes, smartphone in hand. A hearing to grant preliminary approval of the settlement terms is currently set for Feb. 28.
— The first round of an international distribution dispute over Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly soundtrack and other recordings will be set in the U.K., after a Georgia federal judge found that is the appropriate forum for the fight. Mayfield’s widow, through Curtom Classics, in July filed the U.K. claim against Charly Holdings and others, claiming they are distributing the works without permission. Meanwhile, Charly filed a request for declaratory relief in Georgia that challenged Curtom’s ownership of the master recordings. U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May on Nov. 14 granted a stay of proceedings, pending the resolution of the matter in the U.K.’s Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, and denied a motion to dismiss the matter. Curtom can refile its motion to dismiss after the IPEC litigation ends.
— A long-gestating profit participation fight has ended without a trial. Director Hal Needham in January 2013 filed a class action lawsuit against Warner Bros., claiming he had been shorted profits on Hooper because the studio calculated his share by using only 20 percent of the home video revenue it received. Needham died that fall, and half a decade later a California appeals court has found Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu Behrle erred when in March he denied Warners’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to bring the action to trial within five years and set the proceeding for April 10. The 2nd Appellate District concluded that Behrle’s calculation of the deadline was off by more than a month because of inaccurate tolling — including a 32-day pause substituting plaintiffs after Needham’s death. “We find the trial court’s grant of trial preference under the circumstances presented to it inexplicable,” states the opinion. “The court offered no explanation at the hearing, and the factual considerations and conclusions the court stated at the hearing uniformly supported the opposite conclusion. So does the law.”
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