A Los Angeles federal judge heard arguments Monday but made no ruling in litigation over the payment of $389,000 in fees for work by President Donald Trump’s attorneys on a defamation lawsuit filed against him by former adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
Daniels’ suit, which was transferred from New York to Los Angeles federal court in August, alleges that the president defamed her on Twitter when he suggested she had lied about being threatened to keep quiet about their alleged relationship.
The judge dismissed defamation allegations in October on free speech grounds but ruled that Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, must pay Trump’s attorney fees, calculated at $389,000 for 580 hours of work by five attorneys. Trump’s lawyers are also asking U.S. District Judge S. James Otero to award the same amount in penalties.
“This is a one-of-a-kind case,” the judge said from the bench. “When you start to peel the onion back, there are complexities.”
Otero said the hourly billing rates of Trump’s five lawyers — ranging from $841.54 to $307.60 — were “within reason,” but the number of hours billed “appears excessive.”
A hearing in a separate legal battle, involving Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, over a Trump-Daniels non-disclosure pact is scheduled for January.
Clifford’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, argued Monday that Trump’s attorneys billed too many hours for work on various stages of the defense, including strategy.
“We’ve all heard the phrase `heavy pencil,”’ Avenatti told the court, referring to high billing practices. “This (was) a bold Sharpie marker.”
The outspoken attorney called the defense’s billing calculations “gross and excessive.”
Trump’s attorney, Charles Harder, countered that his team’s bill was appropriate.
“I’m a stickler when it comes to people in my office … being efficient,” he said, adding that part of his work involved monitoring Avenatti’s countless Twitter postings and “140-plus news conferences attacking my client.”
Avenatti rose to his own defense, telling the judge that none of his media appearances involved the issue of attorney fees.
Later, when the opposing lawyers again got into a verbal tussle, the judge broke in, telling them he didn’t want to pipe down.
“There’s a lot of noise in this litigation,” Otero said.
It was not known when the judge would issue his decision regarding payment of fees and possible sanctions.
Last week, Clifford appeared to distance herself from Avenatti, saying he had filed the defamation suit against her wishes.