1:24pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Bizarre Sean Hannity Subplot Erupts in Appeal by Former Fox News Executive
When Sean Hannity was revealed in court April 16 as a mystery client of Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen, there were all sorts of reactions to the bombshell. Perhaps the strangest belongs to a New York attorney named J.A. Sanchez-Dorta, who for the past year has been representing Francisco Cortes, a former vice president at Fox News Latino who alleges being scapegoated on the sexual harassment front.
Tamara Holder, an on-air contributor at Fox News, accused Cortes of forcing himself upon her. A $2.5 million settlement was struck between Holder and 21st Century Fox that not only resolved her claims over Cortes, but contained a provision that she would not disparage two other unnamed individuals. Cortes alleges this agreement was then leaked to The New York Times, and he sued Fox News for $48 million in July.
The judge rejected Cortes' lawsuit in January and commented that the allegations were "worthy of its own Martin Scorsese thriller."
Now, the case is on appeal, and Sanchez-Dorta last week filed a truly bizarre brief (read in full here). In a first-person account, the attorney details the reaction he had upon the news of the Hannity-Cohen connection.
"There was quite a bit of joking on the late-night comedy circuit about the potential nature of Michael Cohen's representation of Sean Hannity, but I didn't find it all that humorous, because an early draft of the Complaint had indicated that we believed that one of the other Unknown Persons signatory to The Tamara Holder and Two Unknown Persons Agreement was Sean Hannity, and that Mr. Cortes had been a convenient Latino scapegoat not only for the Defendants, but for Sean Hannity."
Appellate briefs aren't supposed to introduce new facts. They are supposed to argue why an error in legal judgment has been made. Sanchez-Dorta has been sanctioned in the past for "scurrilous statements" in pleadings, and the allegations he presents are hardly grounded with hard evidence of wrongdoing. In reaction to the appellate brief, Fox News strongly denies that Hannity was a party to Holder's settlement agreement and Holder herself says the agreement had nothing to do with Hannity. Nevertheless, it appears as though a small news story about a loan obtained by Hannity has convinced Cortes to move forward in an appeal and seek the opportunity to file an amended complaint.
According to Sanchez-Dorta, when he was investigating the Holder agreement, he asked the opposing side whether Hannity was involved.
"[H]e paused, did not answer my question, and then moved on to other issues regarding the draft of the Complaint," writes Sanchez-Dorta. "I deduced, therefore, that it must be Sean Hannity."
Sanchez-Dorta says he became suspicious because the Holder settlement appeared to suggest that someone else was "piggybacking" on the non-disparagement clause to resolve allegations made by Holder. The attorney adds that his original complaint had a section that referenced an audio found on YouTube of Holder and Hannity engaging in banter of an almost sexual nature.
But he says he ultimately omitted Hannity from what was originally filed in court out of consideration for his ethical obligations and feelings toward opposing counsel.
Writes Sanchez-Dorta, "[I]t was not until 7:42 am in the morning of Tuesday, April 24, 2018, when I received a text from my client sending me a text of an article which had come out in CNBC the night before regarding allegations that in March of 2017 Sean Hannity had taken out two loans amounting to a total of $2.5 million that it occurred to my client and to me that the 'coincidences' were simply too many too [sic] ignore."
Sanchez-Dorta says the discovery of this news item caused Cortes to back away from a $17,500 settlement offer and continue the appeal against all odds. The attorney says his client didn't want to be silenced, especially given that Holder was to be paid $2.5 million by March 8, 2017, and that federal authorities were investigating Fox News regarding payments on sexual harassment cases.
"Given this investigation, one might understand what is to be gained by an arrangement involving a $2.5 million loan taken out by Mr. Hannity against his home to pay a settlement of the type that Fox was finding more and more difficult to make without the sort of protection against disclosure that would be required by a person like Sean Hannity," states the appellate brief. "Now, that is something 'worthy of a Martin Scorsese thriller.'"
Fox News has a different take.
"The brief says that its allegations about Sean Hannity are 'worthy of a Martin Scorsese thriller' for a reason — they are pure fiction," Fox News says in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "Mr. Hannity was not a party to Tamara Holder's settlement agreement with 21CF and did not pay any portion of the settlement. Indeed, Ms. Holder has publicly praised Mr. Hannity as a 'really, really good man' who never acted inappropriately with her."
Holder weighs in, too.
"Sean Hannity has been my friend, mentor and colleague for over a decade," she says. "In 2015, I was sexually assaulted by Francisco Cortes inside of Fox News. After a complete investigation by Fox, Cortes was fired. Fox and I then entered into a settlement in February of 2017. This agreement had nothing to do with Sean Hannity nor have I have I had any legal matters/settlements with Sean Hannity ever. These accusations by Cortes are nothing short of ridiculous and defamatory against my friend Sean Hannity and my former employer Fox News. I wanted to move on with my life. Sadly, as a result of his relentless assault on all of us, I intend to pursue criminal charges against Cortes for his behavior which was that of a sexual predator."