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Judge orders Stormy Daniels to pay Donald Trump another $120,000 in legal fees

Stormy Daniels talks with a journalist in Berlin shortly after her lawyer filed a defamation case against Donald Trump on her behalf in October 2018.
Ralf Hirschberger
DPA/AFP via Getty Images
Stormy Daniels talks with a journalist in Berlin shortly after her lawyer filed a defamation case against Donald Trump on her behalf in October 2018.

As Donald Trump was in New York for a date with legal jeopardy, a judge in Los Angeles quietly granted him a substantial legal victory.

The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the former president on Tuesday, ordering adult film star Stormy Daniels to pay $121,972 in legal fees for a failed defamation suit.

The ruling is not legally connected with the Manhattan district attorney's investigation that led Trump to be charged with 34 felony counts on Tuesday. But it does stem from the same event: Daniels claims she had an affair with Trump in 2006, then was paid by Trump's legal team to avoid going public with the story ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Trump denies the affair but has since admitted he reimbursed his then-attorney Michael Cohen for the hush money payments.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, tried to sue Trump for defamation in 2018, specifically taking aim at a tweet attacking her account of being threatened by a stranger in 2011 to stay quiet on her Trump story. Trump attacked the account as a "con job, playing the Fake News Media."

Federal Judge S. James Otero dismissed the lawsuit, saying Trump's tweet constitutes " 'rhetorical hyperbole' normally associated with politics and public discourse" and is protected by the First Amendment.

Daniels tried to appeal the decision in 2022, saying her then-attorney Michael Avenatti filed the defamation suit "without my permission and against my wishes." But a judge ruled against her, leaving her on the hook for nearly $300,000 in Trump's legal fees.

Daniels subsequently filed a motion to knock down the fee payment. On Tuesday, the court dismissed in part her latest request, which only increased the bill she has to pay.

Daniels argued that the fee request was "unreasonable and excessive," saying the law group had overstaffed the appeal and performed duplicative tasks, and asked for fees to be reduced, court documents show.

She specifically asked the judge to cap the law firm's rates at $500/hourly for partners and $350/hourly for associates — a request the appeals commissioner denied on account of "inflation and increase in the attorneys' experience."

The court denied a secondary request for Daniels to reimburse Trump $5,150 for time responding to the most recent appeal, saying the request lacked itemized detail about the law firm's billing.

"Collectively, our firm obtained over $600,000 in attorney fee awards in his favor in the meritless litigation initiated by Stormy Daniels," said Trump attorney Harmeet Dhillion in a tweet celebrating the legal victory.

After the appeals court ruled against her last year, Daniels tweeted: "I will go to jail before I pay a penny."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: April 7, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story gave Stormy Daniels' real name as Stephanie Cliffords. Her real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.

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