Judge agrees to delay Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit against Trump
The case was put on hold for three months.
A judge has delayed a civil lawsuit by porn actress Stormy Daniels against President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, citing a criminal investigation the lawyer is facing.
US District Judge S James Otero agreed to put the case on hold for three months and set a hearing for July 27.
Mr Cohen asked for a delay after FBI agents raided his home and office earlier this month. The FBI was seeking records about a nondisclosure agreement Ms Daniels signed days before the 2016 presidential election.
Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said she had an affair with Mr Trump in 2006 and sued to dissolve a confidentiality agreement that prevents her from discussing it.
She is also suing Mr Cohen, alleging defamation.
Mr Cohen’s lawyer said in court last week that because the criminal investigation overlaps with issues in the lawsuit, his client’s right against self-incrimination could be adversely impacted because he will not be able to respond and defend himself.
Mr Otero agreed, ruling that “there is a large potential factual overlap between the civil and criminal proceedings that would heavily implicate Mr Cohen’s Fifth Amendment rights”.
Ms Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, tweeted that he would likely be filing an immediate appeal of Mr Otero’s ruling with the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We do not agree with it,” Mr Avenatti wrote. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
While Mr Otero agreed with Mr Avenatti that Mr Cohen’s argument for delay was made weaker without an indictment being filed against him, “the significance of the FBI raid can’t be understated.”
“This is no simple criminal investigation,” Mr Otero wrote. “It is an investigation into the personal attorney of a sitting president regarding documents that might be subject to the attorney-client privilege.”
He continued to say that “whether or not an indictment is forthcoming, and the court thinks it is likely based on these facts alone, these unique circumstances counsel in favour of stay.”
Mr Cohen said in court records that FBI agents had seized his electronic devices and documents that contain information about the 130,000 US dollars Ms Daniels was paid as part of the agreement. Agents also seized communications with his lawyer, Brent Blakely, about the civil case, Mr Cohen said.
Ms Daniels has offered to return the 130,000 dollars and argues the agreement is legally invalid because it was only signed by her and Mr Cohen, not by Mr Trump.
Mr Cohen, who has denied there was ever an affair between Ms Daniels and Mr Trump, said he paid the money out of his pocket using a home equity loan. He has said neither the Trump Organisation nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms Daniels and he was not reimbursed for the payment.
Mr Trump answered questions about Ms Daniels for the first time earlier this month and said he had no knowledge of the payment made by Mr Cohen and did not know where Mr Cohen had got the money. The White House has repeatedly said Mr Trump denies the affair.
Mr Trump said on Thursday that Mr Cohen handles very little of his legal work, but did represent him in the “crazy Stormy Daniels deal”.
Mr Otero also ruled that Ms Daniels’ would not be substantially impacted by a delay, writing that she “has already appeared on at least two national shows … to tell her alleged story”.
“The court agrees that (Ms Daniels) has not established that she has actually been deterred from speaking, or that a delay in proceedings would cause undue prejudice,” he wrote.
Mr Cohen’s lawyers have accused Ms Daniels of violating the confidentiality clauses more than 20 times and said she could be liable for one million dollar in damages for each violation.