Conservative News Outlet Ordered To Pay More Than $250,000 In Legal Fees To Rachel Maddow, MSNBC

from the careful-with-those-baseless-claims,-OAN dept

Last summer, California’s anti-SLAPP law gave MSNBC host Rachel Maddow an early exit from a bogus defamation lawsuit brought by one of the few “news” outlets that’s farther to the right than Fox News, One America News.

OAN claimed it had been defamed when Maddow referred to one of its hosts as a “Kremlin-paid journalist.” This comment referred to OAN “reporter” Kristian Rouz’s concurrent employment as a Sputnik “journalist.” Sputnik is owned by the Russian government and tends to produce exactly the sort of reporting you’d expect from such an arrangement.

As the court noted during its dismissal of the suit, Maddow’s position at MSNBC is one of a commentator — someone expected to give their opinion on world events. Thus, the stuff OAN was arguing (badly) was defamatory was actually protected opinion. And it was informed opinion that had basis in fact: Rouz did work for Sputnik and did produce propaganda on the Russian government’s behalf.

Now, OAN owes MSNBC and Maddow some money. Losing a defamation suit via an anti-SLAPP motion means the victorious party can ask for legal fees. As Mary Papenfuss reports for Huffington Post, OAN’s parent company (Herring Networks) has been ordered to write a very big check.

A federal judge in California has ordered the parent company of far-right  One America News Network to pay Rachel Maddow and MSNBC $250,000 in lawyers’ fees for a failed defamation lawsuit.

Of course, the check isn’t as good as written quite yet.

Herring Networks President Charles Herring told the website Law & Crime in a statement that the company will appeal the costs.

No doubt Herring hopes to recoup the losses it inflicted on itself by engaging in this BS lawsuit. But it seems unlikely the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court will find in favor of the failed plaintiffs. This was a spectacular loss by OAN and its parent company. The lower court shut the door on any rewrites by OAN, setting the stage for this court-ordered opening of OAN’s wallet.

Because there is no set of facts that could support a claim for defamation based on Maddow’s statement, the complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

The court’s order [PDF] discusses all the procedural stuff — including OAN’s multiple arguments in favor of lower costs — before settling on a total:

The Court awards Defendants fees in the amount of $247,667.50 representing 53.5 hours billed by Mr. Boutrous at $1,150 per hour, 19.1 hours billed by Mr. Edelman at $1,050 per hour, 130.6 hours billed by Mr. Bach at $720 per hour, 127.9 hours billed by Ms. Moshell at $470 per hour, 15.8 hours billed by Mr. Rubin at $470 per hour, 14.9 hours billed by Ms. Gadberry at $280 per hour, and 1.3 hours billed by Mr. Amponsah at $265 per hour, and costs in the amount of $10,724.36.

The real lesson being taught here is how expensive it is to defend yourself from a bogus defamation lawsuit. Even in a state with a solid anti-SLAPP law, it still costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a lawsuit dismissed. States without anti-SLAPP laws subject defendants to additional rounds of litigation, all of which increase the cost of defending against even the most ridiculous allegations.

That being said, strong anti-SLAPP laws are a great deterrent. Would-be plaintiffs tend to be a bit more cautious when there’s a chance they’ll be paying everyone’s legal bills, rather than just their own.

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Companies: msnbc, oann

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Comments on “Conservative News Outlet Ordered To Pay More Than $250,000 In Legal Fees To Rachel Maddow, MSNBC”

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30 Comments
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

: OBJECTION!

Your honor, The record shows the there was anti-SLAPP motion based on California law filed in a United States District Court between Herring Networks, based in California, and MSNBC, based in New York. However, there is no Federal anti-SLAPP law!!! So California Law cannot apply to New York parties!

<out of character: I really hope someone will explain this to me in a Ace-Attorney-style "HOLD IT!" reply>

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: HOLD IT!

It’s a little more complicated than that. There are what’s known as "choice of law" principles that can differ depending on which circuit a court is in. Judges are supposed to apply those principles in deciding which law should apply when there’s a dispute. So, to some extent, the judge does get to decide, but there are certain principles that are supposed to bind them (in our case, we felt that the judge applied those principles incorrectly regarding our anti-SLAPP claim).

Anonymous Coward says:

Even in a state with a solid anti-SLAPP law, it still costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a lawsuit dismissed.

Eh… I’m not so sure about that. Does it really take a team of 7 at up to $1150/hour (wtf?!) to point out that an opinion commentator’s comments are opinion? Couldn’t this case have been defended at dramatically lower cost, such as if the defendant didn’t have Maddow’s salary or MSNBC’s deep pockets to support them?

I’m glad OAN is suffering to the maximum possible extent but I still have to disagree that defending against a clear SLAPP suit automatically means "hundreds of thousands of dollars".

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

Does it really take a team of 7 at up to $1150/hour (wtf?!) to point out that an opinion commentator’s comments are opinion?

Possibly not, but if MSNBC can afford to pay that much money for that many lawyers to shove a bogus lawsuit back down OAN’s throat, I don’t see why it wouldn’t/shouldn’t.

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Eh… I’m not so sure about that. Does it really take a team of 7 at up to $1150/hour (wtf?!) to point out that an opinion commentator’s comments are opinion?

If you want to do it and increase your chances of winning significantly? Then, yeah, pretty much. These lawsuits are freaking expensive, because there’s a lot that goes into them, and just walking in and saying "but that’s my opinion!" isn’t generally going to cut it. In fact, cheapening out on lawyers is a good way to make life more expensive in the long run, as you don’t get out of court so quickly.

So, yes, defending a SLAPP suit in most cases will cost a minimum of $100k. And it can easily go up from there.

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: What kind of Herring

Neither. Herring networks are rotten herrings.

Bluntly put they are a collection of grifters who have, like so many others, come to realize that there are 73 million american morons willing to hang on to their every word and possibly scour the couch cushions for spare change as long as they can have a talking head read "Liberals Are Bad" out loud off a teleprompter in front of a camera.

The reason they are "red" or "pro-trump" is that the blue side consists of much, much harder marks than the benighted morons willing to appoint the orange man-child their god-emperor and some internet rando wearing a fake buffalo head and war paint their chosen prophet.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: What kind of Herring

Surströmming is at least held to be a delicacy and a lot of the people eating it sane and rational individuals.

That’s the difference between a foodstuff for the strong-bellied like surströmming, hakarl, millenium eggs etc, and something which, if ingested, poses an actual health hazard.

Herring Networks, in this case, caters to the people willing to choke down potassium-laced koolaid and praise it to the skies.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

53.5 hours billed by Mr. Boutrous at $1,150 per hour, 19.1 hours billed by Mr. Edelman at $1,050 per hour, 130.6 hours billed by Mr. Bach at $720 per hour, 127.9 hours billed by Ms. Moshell at $470 per hour, 15.8 hours billed by Mr. Rubin at $470 per hour,

In fairness, these rates seem kind of high, and the number of hours for an early dismissal via anti-SLAPP motion also seems rather high. OK, outrageously and excessively high respectively.

In real life, I would expect it to take no more than $10K to get rid of such a suit, at least in state court here.

Anonymous Coward says:

To answer the complaint: a few hours.
To research for the motion: a few more hours, at least
getting the exhibits, etc to prove the facts being alleged, a few hours at least.
to deal with the damned e-filing system…
to consult with Ms. Maddow along the way…
to formulate the stratagy
to write the motion and brief asking for the fees.
yeah, time seems about right.
but the $1000+ an hour?
Well, if I could afford it, and the other side had access to other $1000 plus an hour attorneys…yeah, I would use them
the issue is why the other side’s attorneys actually charged, probably a lot more, to file a suit which they clearly knew they should lose…

oh, and wait for appellate costs!

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re:

To answer the complaint: a few hours.
To research for the motion: a few more hours, at least
getting the exhibits, etc to prove the facts being alleged, a few hours at least.

And there starts the misunderstanding. You file the anti-SLAPP motion before you answer the complaint. Indeed, that is the big procedural benefit of the anti-SLAPP statute.

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restless94110 (profile) says:

The Kremlin Blues

It takes a certain kind of simpleton mind to seriously believe that if you write for an outlet financed by a government (e.g., US, UK, Russia, etc.), that that government controls your writing.

Maddow made that simpleton claim and should have been sued into oblivion. Apparently the court is full of idiots who also believe that the BBC is "controlled" by the Queen of England who tells them what to write.

And so obviously does this writer. The suit had merit, even Maddow started waffling when sued and challenged. The Kremlin did not control Larry King or Jesse Ventura, both of whom had shows on Russia Today. It’s a certain kind of stupid to even think that they were.

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nasch (profile) says:

Re: The Kremlin Blues

It takes a certain kind of simpleton mind to seriously believe that if you write for an outlet financed by a government (e.g., US, UK, Russia, etc.), that that government controls your writing.

Or perhaps it takes a simpleton to fail to understand the difference between opinion and fact. That is the basis on which the lawsuit was dismissed – it is not possible to be liable for defamation because of an opinion.

"Because there is no set of facts that could support a claim for defamation based on Maddow’s statement, the complaint is dismissed with prejudice."

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: The Kremlin Blues

"It takes a certain kind of simpleton mind to seriously believe that if you write for an outlet financed by a government (e.g., US, UK, Russia, etc.), that that government controls your writing."

And you make that statement following the dozens of posts where you and your like-minded have claimed exactly this about every news outlet posting a liberal view?
There comes a time when you’d be better off just coming clean with your real arguments because at this point you’d actually be better off just quoting mein kampf at people than keep it up trying to discover every possible way to apply hypocrisy and falsehood.

"The Kremlin did not control Larry King or Jesse Ventura, both of whom had shows on Russia Today. It’s a certain kind of stupid to even think that they were."

Kristian Rouz was employed by an outlet actually owned and operated by the russian government. To write news.

There’s a big fucking difference between the russian government employing a person and Russia Today buying the license to televise a show recorded and produced by americans.

But since when did facts and context matter to the alt-right?

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