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Sunday 15 September 2019

Lawyers for Trump seek to punish Stormy Daniels with court fees

The US president denies having an affair with the porn star.

Stormy Daniels (AP)
Stormy Daniels (AP)

By Brian Melley

Lawyers for US president Donald Trump have asked a court for nearly 800,000 dollars (£627,460) in lawyers’ fees and penalties from porn actress Stormy Daniels over a failed defamation lawsuit against him.

Attorney Charles Harder defended racking up a near-390,000 dollar (£305,000) legal bill for the president and asked for an equal amount in sanctions as a deterrent against a “repeat filer of frivolous defamation cases”.

At a Los Angeles court, Judge S James Otero did not immediately make a ruling.

He noted that fees by Mr Harder’s firm – as high as 840 dollars (£658) an hour – were reasonable but the 580 hours spent on the case appeared to be excessive and might be trimmed in his eventual award.

The judge did not indicate how he felt about the requested penalties, but had questioned whether lawyers’ fees alone would serve as a deterrent.

Mr Harder had not put a dollar figure on sanctions he was seeking before the hearing, and Ms Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti objected vehemently, calling it “absurd and outrageous”.

“You can’t just pick a number out of thin air in an effort to put my client under Donald Trump’s thumb and intimidate her,” Mr Avenatti said.

Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, alleges she had a one-night affair with Mr Trump in 2006.

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Ms Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti (AP)

She sued him earlier this year seeking to break a non-disclosure agreement she signed days before the 2016 election about the tryst as part of a 130,000 dollar (£102,000) hush money settlement. Mr Trump has denied the affair, but essentially acknowledges the payment to Ms Daniels.

Despite the deal to stay quiet, Ms Daniels spoke out publicly and alleged that five years after the affair she was threatened to keep quiet by a man she did not recognise in a Las Vegas car park. She also released a composite sketch of the mystery man.

She sued Mr Trump for defamation after he responded to the allegation by tweeting: “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!”

Judge Otero ruled in October that Mr Trump’s statement was “rhetorical hyperbole” against a political adversary and was protected speech under the First Amendment.

Although the lawsuit did not get far before Judge Otero rejected it, he said it was a “one of a kind” case that demanded a fair bit of legal work.

“Given a case of this magnitude, you have to err on the side of being thorough,” Judge Otero said.

Ms Daniels has appealed Judge Otero’s decision and Mr Avenatti said he expects to prevail at a higher court.

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