A federal judge in California has ordered Herring Networks, the parent company of far-right conservative media organization One America News Network (OAN), to pay MSNBC and host Rachel Maddow $250,000 in attorney’s fees stemming from a defamation lawsuit that was dismissed last year.
Herring in July 2019 filed a lawsuit against Maddow which claimed the liberal host had defamed OAN when she discussed reports that one of the network’s contributors also worked for the Russia state news organization Sputnik. Maddow went on to state that OAN “literally is paid Russian propaganda,” which OAN’s parent company claimed was false and defamatory. Herring, the parent company, then filed a defamation lawsuit seeking $10 million.
Attorneys representing Maddow and MSNBC responded by filing a special motion to strike the case under California’s Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (Anti-SLAPP) law. Such measures are meant to prevent people and companies from using the courts to stifle constitutionally protected First Amendment speech.
Siding against OAN, U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant, an appointee of President Barack Obama, dismissed the suit with prejudice. Bashant reasoned that there was “no set of facts that could support a claim for defamation based on Maddow’s statement.”
Under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, defendants who prevail on a special motion to toss a defamation case are entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and costs related to extracting themselves from unsound claims.
The court calculated that Maddow’s team of high-priced attorneys from the law firm Gibson Dunn—including famed First Amendment attorney Ted Boutrous, Jr.—were entitled to collect on 363.1 hours of work totaling $247,667.50, plus an additional $10,724 for hours billed by paralegals.
In a statement to Law&Crime, Herring Networks President Charles Herring said he and his legal team plan to continue pursuing an appeal to the ruling. “We’re pleased that the fees were reduced by nearly a third by the court,” he wrote in an email. “The case is currently under appeal and we’re highly confident that we’ll receive a favorable and just ruling in the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.”
As previously reported by Law&Crime, OAN came under fire on Friday when the network aired MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s documentary-style disinformation program which alleged massive electoral fraud during the 2020 presidential election. The broadcast — some 12 hours total — ran as a paid advertisement.
The Lindell broadcast included a lengthy legal disclaimer that sought to avoid liability for further amplifying false claims made against voting machine vendors and U.S. election officials, but attorneys for Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic said they planned to sue over the broadcast anyway.
“‘Nice try’ by OAN, but it definitely does not relieve them of liability,” Dominion attorney Thomas Clare told Law&Crime via email. “To the contrary, we warned them specifically and in writing that they would be broadcasting false and defamatory statements of fact if they broadcast the program, and they made the affirmative decision to disregarded that warning and broadcast it anyway.”
Read the full ruling regarding the attorneys’ fees below.
[Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]
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