LOS ANGELES — Lawyers for President Donald Trump want porn actress Stormy Daniels to pay them $340,000 in legal bills they claim they earned successfully defending Trump against her failed defamation claim.
The attorneys are due in a Los Angeles federal courtroom Monday to make their case that they rang up big bills because of gamesmanship and aggressive tactics by attorney Michael Avenatti, who represents Daniels.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, alleges she had a one-night affair with Trump in 2006. 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 hush money settlement. Trump has denied the affair, but essentially acknowledged the payment to Daniels.
Despite the deal to stay quiet, Daniels spoke out publicly and alleged that five years after the affair she was threatened to keep quiet by a man she did not recognize in a Las Vegas parking lot. She also released a composite sketch of the mystery man.
She sued 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)!”
U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero ruled in October that Trump’s statement was “rhetorical hyperbole” against a political adversary and was protected speech under the First Amendment. Trump is entitled to legal fees, Otero said.
Trump’s team of lawyers have accounted for more than 500 hours of work — at rates as high as $840 an hour.
Avenatti, who has positioned himself as a Trump foe and is considering a run for president in 2020, said the fees are “staggering and grossly inflated” and should not exceed $25,000.
Daniels has appealed Otero’s decision and Avenatti said Monday he expects to prevail at a higher court.
He also said he will be seeking attorney’s fees against Trump in the ongoing hush money case and he anticipates being rewarded a figure that “dwarfs by magnitudes” what Trump is seeking in the defamation case.
Trump’s lead attorney said the fees and unspecified monetary sanctions were earned because of the extraordinary nature of the defamation case.
“This action is virtually unprecedented in American legal history,” attorney Charles Harder wrote. Daniels “not only brought a meritless claim for defamation against the sitting president of the United States, but she also has engaged, along with her attorney, in massive national publicity.”
In a related case in which Daniels has alleged that her former lawyer, Keith Davidson, colluded with Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to have her publicly deny the affair with Trump, Avenatti and Cohen’s lawyer briefly exchanged accusations Monday in the hallway of a Santa Monica courthouse.
Avenatti stood nose-to-nose with attorney Brent Blakely and said he represented a felon. Blakely shot back that Avenatti is a felon. Avenatti said he’s never been convicted of a crime.
Cohen has pleaded guilty to several felonies and admitted funneling money to Daniels to keep her quiet about an affair she has said she had with Trump.
Avenatti was arrested last month on suspicion of domestic violence.
Prosecutors declined bringing felony charges against Avenatti. They are investigating whether he should face a misdemeanor charge for allegations he roughed up a girlfriend. Avenatti has denied wrongdoing.
That lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court has been put on hold while Cohen faces sentencing for his federal crimes.