Friday, December 17, 2021

Stormy Daniels – the Importance of Four Days

It has been a while since Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, has been in the news. You will recall that she was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about her dalliance with Donald Trump. After this liaison became known, two lawsuits were filed. 

In the first, Daniels claimed that the non-disclosure agreement she signed was fatally defective and that she was entitled to tell her story. She won this case.

In the second suit, Daniels filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump for his disparaging remarks about their presumed relationship. That case was dismissed by the court because the statements made by Trump did not meet the legal standards for defamation. 

In both cases, the winning side was entitled to attorneys’ fees. Daniels was awarded $44,100 in the nondisclosure case. In the defamation case, Trump was awarded $292,062.33. Much of the disparity in attorneys’ fees was due to the relative complexity and time involved in the cases. 

From the outside, one would think that the two cases could be brought together financially, with Daniels paying Trump the difference between $292k that he won and the $44k she did. That apparent solution is not that simple legally. 

On the Trump-winning side, we have the issue of her liquidity. She simply does not have it. The reason is that her former attorney and short-term media darling, Michael Avenatti, absconded with funds belonging to her as the result of a book deal. It has since been revealed that the now disbarred Avenatti made a practice of spending his clients’ money and attempting to extort others. It is also apparent that the defamation case he filed on her behalf was not done for her benefit but to keep him in the public eye. 

Arguably, then, the reason Daniels owes Trump any money at all is because of Avenatti’s avarice. Daniels could, of course, attempt to get that money back from Avenatti, but she is near the back of a long line of creditors. 

The bottom line for attorneys’ fees payment from Daniels is that she is simply “not collectable.” 

The “four days” referenced in the title to this article concerns the $44k owed by Trump to Daniels. Trump’s then attorneys attempted to appeal the attorneys’ fee award. That is where the legal stuff comes in. 

There is a legal adage that lawsuits are nothing more than a series of hurry up and wait. The “hurry up” is caused by specific, strictly enforced timelines that lawyers are required to follow. 

In the present case, Trump’s lawyers had 60 days from the court clerk’s certification of the lower court attorney’s fee order to file their appeal. This time limit is called “jurisdictional,” meaning that if you miss the deadline by even a day, your case is finished. No exceptions. This strict rule probably causes lawyers more panic than anything else. Miscount the days? You lose. 

Trump’s attorneys’ fees appeal missed the deadline by four days. They attempted to argue that the clerk’s certification really had not occurred until days later than appeared on the certification form. This time difference would have given them additional time to file the appeal. The appellate court panel said the evidence simply was not there to prove that. Therefore, since the appeal was not timely made, the case is finished.

It is highly unlikely that money will ever change hands between Trump and Daniels. So financially, there is no winner. The true losers are Trump's former lawyers who will now need to explain to their forgiving and longsuffering boss why they lost. I hope their malpractice insurance premiums are up to date. 


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