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March 07, 2018

Stormy Daniels Lawsuit: Here's How She Can Win

LOS ANGELES—Yesterday, the news dropped that Stormy Daniels filed a lawsuit against the president of the United States. And today, the lawyers and pundits weighed in. Daniels filed the lawsuit against Trump yesterday. The suit charges that an agreement she signed shortly before the 2016 presidential election, buying her silence about the affair in exchange for a $130,000 payoff, is null and void because Trump did not sign it himself. Through her lawyer, Daniels accused Donald Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen, of attempting to bully her into keeping quiet about the extramarital affair she allegedly had with Trump in 2006 and 2007. The complaint says that Daniels suffered “injury to her person” by Trump’s alleged “actions against her.” But the documents do not specify what that “injury” might have been.  Daniels’ lawsuit does not seek money or other damages from Trump, but asks only that her contract with Trump be thrown out. The $130,000 payoff was revealed in a Wall Street Journal article back on January 12, but the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court reveals that under the agreement, Daniels would be forced not only to pay back the $130,000 if she spoke publicly about the affair, but she would also owe Trump himself $1 million on top of that sum for every time that she violated the deal by talking about what transpired between her and Trump. In January, around the same time that the Wall Street Journal broke the story of the hush money payoff to cover up Trump’s sexual relationship with Daniels, Cohen circulated a statement signed by Daniels in which she denied having sex with Trump, and also denied that the $130,000 hush money payoff ever took place.  According to the lawsuit, Cohen forced Daniels to sign that statement, using “intimidation and coercive tactics.” The lawsuit, which may read in full at this link, claims that the agreement is void due to the absence of Trump’s signature—which Trump deliberately omitted, Daniels and her lawyers claim, so that he could later “publicly disavow any knowledge of the Hush Agreement and (Ms. Daniels).” In the contract, Trump was given the alias “David Dennison” while Daniels was referred to as “Peggy Peterson.” The lawsuit also alleges that Trump and Cohen used 10 other identities or surrogates, named in the lawsuit only as “Does 1-10.” But a legal analysis published today says that the unfair, one-sided nature of the deal between Trump, now the President of the United States, and Daniels, an adult film performer relatively unknown to the public at large prior to the Trump scandal, may make a more winnable case for throwing out the contract. According to a report Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, the effort by Cohen and Trump to keep Daniels quiet continued as recently as last week, when Cohen secretly filed an arbitration case against Daniels, attempting to force her to hold to the “hush” agreement. A Wednesday report by NBC News said that Cohen actually obtained a restraining order against Daniels, which he emailed to her previous lawyer, Keith Davidson, on February 28. The order barred Daniels revealing anything not only about the affair but also about the $130,000 agreement to keep her quiet. Daniels filed her lawsuit a week later anyway—a lawsuit which clearly states that the Trump-Daniels affair took place.  What chance does Daniels have of beating Trump in court, and winning the right to speak openly about her affair with Trump more than a decade ago? According to an analysis by the Law & Crime legal blog, the apparent unfairness of the contract may make a stronger argument for voiding that deal than will the fact that Trump never signed the papers. “Typically, courts will refuse to enforce contracts if either the terms of the contract are patently unfair to one party, or if there is some kind of serious power differential between the parties,”wrote Law & Crime analyst Elura Nanos, who points out the power differential between a wealthy man who now holds the office of President of the United States and an adult film actress. “If the court finds either the contract’s terms, or the circumstances of the contract’s formation were far more favorable to Donald Trump than they were to [Stormy Daniels], there’s a good chance the court will refuse to enforce the entire contract, regardless of what it may contain,” Nanos wrote. Bloomberg.com’s Erik Larson offered another take on the viability of the lawsuit, interviewing legal experts who thought the argument about Trump not signing the agreement would not prevail. However, Daniels claims the agreement is also illegal because it violates public policy. Bloomberg quotes Domenic Romano, a corporate and entertainment attorney in New York, who says, "If they can show this whole thing is illegal, based on the federal election law, then generally courts are not going to enforce contracts that encourage illegal behavior." White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked repeatedly about Daniels’ lawsuit at Wednesday’s press briefing for the Washington D.C. press corps, but she dodged the questions, claiming only that “this case has already been won in arbitration.” On Twitter, media columnist Jim Rutenberg (@jimrutenberg) posted this amusing followup tweet: “Stormy Daniels lawyer, @MichaelAvenatti responds to me re Sanders' statement Trump won at arbitration: ‘yeah and he also won the popular vote.’” To hear directly from the person at the center of this media maelstrom, listen in on Holly Randall’s compelling interview with Stormy Daniels, which went live today on her Holly Randall Unfiltered podcast (download on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play). The two longtime colleagues talk mostly about Daniels’ career as a director (something few mainstream reporters have covered), but the hour-long conversation also covers how Daniels’ personal life has been upturned by the media frenzy. Daniels reports that reporters had even gone so far as to interview her neighbors, who were unaware of her career in adult—and sadly, one neighbor was now preventing her child from playing with Daniels’ own daughter.

 
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