As Manhattan prosecutors reportedly renew their focus on a criminal investigation into Donald Trump, lawyers are closer to knowing the final tab for the litigation that first thrust the former president’s relationship with adult film star Stormy Daniels into the public spotlight.
A judge in Los Angeles last week ordered Trump to pay Daniels $54,436.25 to cover her attorney fees and costs for defending an earlier fee order. The earlier order said Trump owes Daniels $44,100 for the trial court costs associated with the lawsuit over their nondisclosure agreement. The money, however, is a mere dent in the nearly $500,000 Daniels owes Trump in separate litigation in federal court, with the latest fee award likely to be applied to that debt, just as the $44,100 has been.
The fee flap also is not over: The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals still is considering a $127,122.56 request from Trump’s lawyers for their work defending an unsuccessful appeal from Daniels in a separate defamation lawsuit after an ordered mediation on Oct. 20 failed.
Both lawsuits were filed by Daniels’ former lawyer Michael Avenatti, who’s now in prison for defrauding her. The defamation lawsuit concerned a tweet Trump sent on April 18, 2018, after Avenatti and Daniels released a sketch of a man she said threatened her in 2011 to stay quiet about her dalliance with Trump, which she said occurred in 2006 or 2007.
A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)! https://t.co/9Is7mHBFda
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018
Daniels’ lawyer Clark O. Brewster told Law&Crime on Monday that Avenatti filed the defamation lawsuit “expressly contrary to Stormy’s wishes.” He said he and his team are “pleased that the court found in Stormy’s favor.”
“Since our representation of Stormy following the Michael Avenatti disaster we have prevailed on all litigation in Ohio, Florida, New York, and California, with the exception of the defamation case Avenatti filed against Donald Trump,” Brewster said. “Stormy has been a delight to represent. She is a highly intelligent woman who has always been contemplative, responsive, contributive, and packs a razor wit and keen sense of humor.”
Trump’s lawyer Harmeet Dhillon told Law&Crime that the “net result of Ms. Clifford’s failed litigation against President Trump is that she owes him several hundred thousand dollars, with one further order pending in the 9th Circuit.”
“It is regrettable that this matter has taken and continues to take so much court time. We look forward to the final orders and a final number that Ms. Clifford owes President Trump,” Dhillon said in an email.
As demonstrated in the dueling fee awards, the lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court fared far better than the federal defamation suit in the Central District of California. It sought to have Daniels released from a nondisclosure agreement she signed with Trump’s personal attorney at the time, Michael Cohen, 11 days before the 2016 election regarding her sexual relationship with Trump.
Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal crimes related to $130,000 he paid Daniels, as well as money paid to another woman over her relationship with Trump, but Trump has not been charged to this date. (Daniels pushed back on descriptions of her encounters with Trump as an affair or relationship when testifying in Avenatti’s trial in Manhattan in January 2022, saying “I don’t consider getting cornered when I come out of a bathroom to be having an affair.”)
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert B. Broadbelt III dismissed Daniels’ lawsuit in 2018 after the agreement was deemed nonenforceable but linked Trump directly to the nondisclosure agreement signed under the name David Dennison, citing the then-president’s admission that he reimbursed the $130,000 Daniels paid to Cohen.
The judge also declared Daniels to be the prevailing party, which meant Trump had to pay her legal bills. Broadbelt determined the amount to be $44,100, and California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected Trump’s appeal because of a missed deadline.
It’s not the only missed deadline that’s played a pivotal rule in the fee flap.
In the federal defamation lawsuit filed by Avenatti, he had 30 days to appeal now-retired U.S. District Judge S. James Otero’s December judgment that Daniels owed Trump $292,052.33. The award included a $1,000 sanction against Daniels for Avenatti’s frivolous lawsuit.
But as evidenced in his two fraud trials in California and New York, that was the same time he was trying to fend off financial ruin through the tail-end of a Ponzi scheme that victimized several clients, including Daniels. As the appellate deadline passed, Avenatti was lying to Daniels about payments for her book Full Disclosure that he was later convicted of embezzling.
He never filed the appeal. Instead, Daniels fired Avenatti shortly before his arrest on charges that he tried to extort Nike Inc., and Brewster, who’s based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, took over Daniels’ representation.
Brewster appealed Otero’s $292,052.33 fee award in August 2020, but the 9th Circuit concluded he was far too late.
Already in federal prison for defrauding Daniels and trying to extort Nike, Avenatti is to be sentenced Dec. 5 by Senior U.S. District Judge James V. Selna for defrauding five clients out of what prosecutors say was $12.5 million. Prosecutors are seeking 17.5 years.
Read Judge Broadbelt’s full Nov. 16 fee order here.
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