Judge Orders Trump to Pay Stormy Daniels $44,000 in Legal Fees

It’s a small victory in an endless legal battle.

Stormy Daniels and Michael Avanatti in 2019Mjt/AdMedia/ZUMA

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It’s been a bad week in court for President Donald Trump. First, Steve Bannon—his former campaign chief and White House aide—was arrested and charged with defrauding donors who had supported a privately funded effort to build a border wall. Then Trump lost his legal bid to delay handing over his tax returns to New York prosecutors. And now, a California judge has ordered him to pay $44,000 in legal fees to porn star Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels.

The fees stem from Daniels’ fight to be released from a nondisclosure agreement she signed with former Trump attorney Michael Cohen in October 2016, during the presidential campaign, in which Cohen paid her $130,000 in exchange for keeping quiet about her alleged affair with Trump. Trump, who has denied having an affair with Daniels, later reimbursed Cohen for the payment. 

Daniels claimed that the NDA was invalid because Trump himself never signed it. She ultimately prevailed in the case after Trump agreed not to try to enforce the contract or to seek repayment of the $130,000. Cohen, meanwhile, was sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion and campaign finance violations related to the hush-money payment. While the legal case was largely moot, Daniels continued to press for Trump to pay her legal fees and expenses that were required to win the case. On Monday, a California Superior Court judge awarded her $44,100 in legal fees as the prevailing party but denied her motion to recoup about $10,000 in expenses.

Daniels and Trump have been embroiled in legal disputes for years now, and while this week’s award is a big win for Daniels, it’s small change compared to what she owes Trump in legal fees from a different case. In 2018, represented by Michael Avanatti, Daniels filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump over a tweet that attacked her credibility. A federal judge found Trump’s tweet to be protected opinion, dismissed the case, and ordered her to pay Trump nearly $300,000 in legal fees for a case that lasted but six months. 

After the decision, Avanatti tweeted, “We will appeal the dismissal of the defamation cause of action and are confident in a reversal.” He added, “There is something really rich in Trump relying on the First Amendment to justify defaming a woman.” A few months later, Avanatti was arrested on extortion, fraud, and embezzlement charges. He was subsequently charged with stealing nearly $300,000 from Daniels herself. That case is supposed to go to trial in October. Meanwhile, Daniels has continued to appeal the dismissal of her defamation case and the fee award—meaning that her legal battle with Trump may last longer than his presidency or even the alleged affair that started it all.

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REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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