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Stormy Daniels has hit a procedural roadblock in her case alleging a $130,000 deal with Donald Trump is void.
A day after her attorney, Michael Avenatti, demanded that Trump submit to a deposition to clear up his participation in the “hush agreement,” a California federal judge has rejected the bid for an expedited jury trial and limited discovery.
“While [Essential Consultants] and Mr. Trump have stated their intention to file a petition to compel arbitration, they have not yet done so,” writes U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero. “If such a petition were filed, a number of the questions raised in Plaintiff’s Motion may be answered in the petition, thus limited the need for discovery on these issues. If such a petition is never filed, Plaintiff’s Motion is moot. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Motion is premature and must be denied.”
Daniels is alleging in her lawsuit that despite being paid, the agreement requiring Daniels say nothing about an alleged affair a decade ago is void because Trump never signed the deal and it violates public policy by suppressing speech on a matter of public concern. The case has put Trump in a difficult position — not only because of the allegation of an extramarital affair, but also because it raises questions of whether Trump participated in something that could be deemed a violation of campaign finance law.
Avenatti argued discovery was needed at this early juncture “concerning whether there was a lawful purpose to the Agreement” and “whether a contract was formed,” which may inform the issue of the validity of an arbitration clause too, but Otero clearly prefers that after the defendants removed the case to federal court, they file the next papers in the case. Although the defendants have suggested they will be moving to compel arbitration and have raised the prospect that Daniels has breached contract by making public statements about Trump, the early posture of the case presents more of a barrier than any constitutional objection (as the Supreme Court has determined that presidents must submit to discovery in civil cases while in office).
Otero concludes, “Given that Plaintiff has failed to follow certain of the Court’s procedural requirements that would trigger a responsive pleading deadline for the defendants, and that such a responsive pleading may answer a number of questions raised by Plaintiff’s Motion, the Court declines to prematurely address these issues.”
In a footnote, Otero adds that this litigation “is not the most important matter” on his docket and discourages the parties from requesting expedited proceedings, hearings and discovery.
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