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.
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.