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Appeals Court Says Stormy Daniels on the Hook for Nearly $300K in Trump’s Legal Fees After Failed Defamation Lawsuit

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 16: Stormy Daniels attends the XBIZ Awards 2020 on January 16, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.

Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford).

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday ordered porn star Stormy Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) to pay up for nearly $300,000 in Donald Trump’s legal fees that after a failed defamation lawsuit.

The unpublished (read: nonprecedential) opinion was filed directly on the lower district court’s docket and does not, as of the time of this writing, appear on the case docket for the requisite Ninth Circuit case. Nor does the opinion yet reside on the Ninth Circuit’s website which contains recent opinions.

The terse order — barely three pages long — was unanimous. It was penned by circuit judges Sidney R. Thomas (a Clinton appointee), Kim McLane Wardlaw (also a Clinton appointee), and Jacqueline Nguyen (an Obama appointee).

“We lack jurisdiction over Clifford’s appeal of the underlying order granting attorneys’ fees,” the judges wrote in unison.

That brief line left in place a lower court’s decision on attorneys’ fees — which the lower court calculated as follows via a December 2018 order [bolding of names ours]:

Defendant claims the following rates for the attorneys that worked on this matter: attorney Charles Harder (partner) charges $841.64 per hour; attorney Ryan J. Stonerock (partner) charges $756.49 per hour; attorney Dilan A. Esper (senior attorney) charges $611.99 per hour; attorney Steven H. Frackman (associate) charges $586.50 per hour; and attorney Ted S. Nguyen (associate) charges $307.60 per hour.

The district court judge said the fees were entirely appropriate given the nature of the matter and the expertise of the lawyers employed.

In reviewing the rates charged by Defendant’s attorneys, the Court agrees with Defendant that his attorneys are incredibly qualified, and that the law firm of Harder LLP has specific expertise in the fields of media and defamation law. The Court also is mindful of the fact that the instant litigation is unique in its nature and scope. It involves a defamation claim against the sitting President of the United States based on a tweet issued by the President from his personal Twitter account. The President has used this Twitter account extensively, both during his campaign and afterwards. The litigation before this Court therefore impacts what the President may or may not say in a public forum.

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero reduced the award sought ($389,403.11) by 25% for a total amount due of $292,052.33.

The Ninth Circuit refused to touch that amount, and the judges explained why.

“Because the district court’s 2018 order granting attorneys’ fees was a final judgment, we have no jurisdiction over Clifford’s appeal of that award,” the appellate court wrote. “To invoke this court’s jurisdiction over an appeal, a notice of appeal must be filed with the district clerk within 30 days after the judgment or order appealed from is entered. Because Clifford did not file a notice of appeal as to the 2018 order until August 24, 2020, her appeal from the attorneys’ fees award was untimely.”

Stormy Daniels suggested on Twitter that the amount may not immediately be forthcoming.

“I will go to jail before I pay a penny,” the adult film star wrote.

The Ninth Circuit matter was decided on the briefs and not on oral argument, the circuit court’s opinion indicates.

The since-incarcerated Michael Avenatti represented Daniels during considerable portions of the underlying defamation claim.

According to the lawsuit, Daniels had sex with Trump in Lake Tahoe in the summer of 2006. In 2011, she says she began speaking with In Touch magazine about the affair. Daniels claimed a man threatened her in a Las Vegas parking lot “a few weeks” after she spoke with In Touch.

“Leave Trump alone,” the man allegedly said. “Forget the story.”

“That’s a beautiful little girl,” the man allegedly continued. “It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.”

The lawsuit says Daniels took the encounter as a “direct threat.”

Later, a forensic artist created an image which purported to show the heretofore unidentified man. Trump pilloried the image.

“A sketch years later about a nonexistent man,” Trump tweeted. “A total can job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!”

That comment by Trump, Daniels alleged, was defamatory.

Judge Otero threw out the case in 2018.

“The Court holds that Mr. Trump’s tweet is ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ and is protected by the First Amendment,” Otero wrote.  “Plaintiff cannot amend the Complaint in a way that challenges this holding.”

That paved the way for the filing for attorneys’ fees by Trump — which the Ninth Circuit agreed was just.

Read the opinion below:

[Image via Tasia Wells/Getty Images for XBIZ.]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.