Donald Trump Awarded $300K in Legal Fees in Stormy Daniels Defamation Fight

Daniels must pay the president $293,052.33 in attorneys' fees, costs and sanctions after losing her defamation lawsuit against him, a California federal judge has ruled.
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Stormy Daniels, President Donald Trump

Stormy Daniels has been ordered to pay nearly $300,000 to President Donald Trump after her defamation lawsuit against him was dismissed — which is more than double what she was initially paid to keep quiet about their alleged affair.

Daniels in April sued Trump under her legal name, Stephanie Clifford, claiming the president defamed her on Twitter. Her attorney had shared a sketch of a man who allegedly threatened Clifford to keep quiet about Trump in 2011, and the president tweeted in response, "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 lawyer Charles Harder won a motion to dismiss the lawsuit under Texas' anti-SLAPP statute, with U.S. District Court Judge James Otero finding the tweet was "rhetorical hyperbole" that 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 — and Clifford's lawyer Michael Avenatti argued Trump's lawyers should receive only $25,000 and that their hourly rates were unreasonable.

In a declaration last week, Harder noted that their $390,000 fee request actually calculates to a lower average hourly rate than what Avenatti says he's billed on work for Clifford (although he's crowdfunding the fees).

Otero on Tuesday awarded Harder about 75 percent requested fees and $1,000 in sanctions — which Harder says is intended to punish Clifford "for having filed a meritless lawsuit against the President designed to chill his free speech rights."

Otero found the hourly rates charged by Harder and his team are reasonable, given their expertise in media and defamation law and the novel nature of a defamation lawsuit based on a tweet issued by the sitting president. However, he found the hours requested to be excessive and reduced them by 25 percent. 

"[W]ith Harder LLP's vast experience in the area of defamation law and federal court litigation, billing substantial hours for legal research connected to a motion to strike or a motion to transfer is not reasonable," writes Otero. "Moreover, in briefing the Special Motion, Defendant submitted significant extraneous evidence, including a detailed list of Plaintiff's movie history and filmography, which was unnecessary to this Court's decision-making. Ultimately, Defendant's counsel did not need to spend as much time as they did conducting legal research and compiling factual exhibits that would not properly be before this Court."

With regard to sanctions, Otero found Clifford being liable for substantial attorneys' fees in itself is a deterrent from filing frivolous SLAPP litigation in the future and found an additional $1,000 to be appropriate. (Read the full order, below.)

"The court’s order, along with the court’s prior order dismissing Stormy Daniels’ defamation case against the President, together constitute a total victory for the President, and a total defeat for Stormy Daniels in this case," Harder said Tuesday in a statement.  

Avenatti, in a statement on Twitter, contends the award is "dwarfed" by the $1.5 million he says his client will receive in the non-disclosure agreement litigation and maintains "Stormy will never have to pay the felon Cohen or Trump a single dime in attorney's fees, costs or sanctions." (He later deleted the tweet, but has written several others echoing the sentiment.)

Harder in October filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit after Trump agreed the hush agreement would be rescinded and promised not to sue Clifford to enforce the contract. A hearing is currently set for Jan. 22.