One thing that Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen agreed upon heading into Tuesday was that her defamation claim against the former lawyer for Donald Trump had to go; it was only a question of on what terms. Daniels, through her attorney Michael Avenatti, filed a motion for leave to amend her complaint against Trump, Cohen, and Cohen’s company Essential Consultants (EC), in order to drop the defamation claim against Cohen. Cohen and his lawyer Brett Blakely, however, didn’t want Daniels to get off that easily, and filed a motion to strike the claim.
U.S. District Judge S. James Otero ruled in Daniels’ favor in an order issued on Tuesday, pointing out how it’s better for both sides to just let Daniels drop the claim and move forward, instead of continuing to litigate the issue, which could be costly and time consuming.
“The proposed amendment is to Defendants’ advantage, eliminating a cause of action against them,” the judge wrote. “In an ironic twist, not granting Plaintiff leave to amend the [complaint] may prejudice defendants Cohen and EC by forcing them to continue to litigate a meritless defamation claim [emphasis in original].”
Of course, for Cohen, that could have been the whole point. Daniels already lost a separate defamation claim against Trump, and as a result was ordered to pay Trump $292,052.33 in attorneys’ fees. If Cohen had the opportunity to litigate and win in similar fashion, he could have potentially had a similar result.
Judge Otero, however, did not mention that at all in his analysis of the relevant legal issues. He acknowledged Cohen’s argument that Daniels’ request to amend her complaint and drop the defamation claim was not made properly, given that Avenatti filed it three days earlier than the local rules permitted. Nevertheless, the judge noted that any problems with the timing of Daniels’ motion were not made in bad faith and did not result in any prejudice against Cohen.
Interestingly enough, while Cohen argued that Daniels filed her motion too soon after the two sides had met, he also argued that it was improperly delayed, because it came months after the motion to strike was filed. Cohen argued that it wasn’t until Daniels lost her defamation claim against Trump that she opted to try and dismiss the one against Cohen. Judge Otero said that may be the case, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
“To the extent that Plaintiff reconsidered her defamation claim based on the law, as enumerated by the Court, this does not reveal Plaintiff’s bad faith,” the judge wrote.
While the judge ruled against Cohen, he did address one concern of Cohen’s. The former Trump lawyer had expressed concern that by being allowed to voluntarily drop the defamation claim, Daniels would be able to bring one again at another time in a different jurisdiction. Judge Otero said that by dismissing the claim with prejudice, he ensures that Daniels will not be able to do this.
Both sides acted like the judge’s decision was a win. In a statement to Law&Crime, Avenatti said:
We asked that the minor defamation claim be dismissed and it was because the Court sided with us and against Cohen. The Court already stated we received everything we asked for because Cohen and Trump were forced to admit we were right all along relating to the NDA.
Blakely, however, focused on the positives for Cohen, even if it wasn’t necessarily quite what he wanted. In a statement to Law&Crime, he emphasized how Daniels will not be able to bring the claim again in the future.
“Today’s ruling dismissing Ms. Daniels’ defamation claim ‘with prejudice’ is a clear win for Michael Cohen. Rather than fighting in court, Ms. Daniels and her attorney instead chose to abandon the case – the legal equivalent of running away,” he said. “When a plaintiff’s claim has been dismissed ‘with Prejudice,’ the defendant, in this case Mr. Cohen, is the prevailing party. No amount of spin on behalf of Ms. Daniels or her attorney can alter this result.”
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