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Porn Star vs. President: A Defamation Primer from Judge Zuccaro’s Court

The following is a parodic court ruling from Anthony Law’s litigation associate Vince Zuccaro. The views and knowledge expressed herein do not reflect those of any other associate of Anthony Law, LLC, other than Vince Zuccaro, who is not a judge. This matter comes before the Court upon the Complaint of Stephanie Clifford, an adult film actress performing under the name “Stormy Daniels,” against President Donald J. Trump. Ms. Clifford previously alleged having a sexual encounter with the President in 2006, allegations the President has steadfastly denied.

From there, Ms. Clifford alleged that sometime in 2011 a man approached her in a threatening manner and urged her to “forget” the story about the 2006 sexual encounter with Mr. Trump (which, again, definitely happened). Earlier this year, Ms. Clifford released the sketch of this suspect, who can be best described as “very medium height, medium build, and overall generic looking.” President Trump took to Twitter and responded to these allegations as follows:

A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)! https://t.co/9Is7mHBFda

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018

Ms. Clifford claims that in making the above statement, the President is liable to her for defamation. Acting sua sponte, the Court considers the following questions:

(1) Was the statement defamatory?

(2) If yes, did Ms. Clifford sustain any damages?

(1) Was the statement defamatory? Generally, a statement is defamatory if the person making it knows it to be false at the time it was made or makes the statement with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity, and it is published to a person other than the plaintiff. The statement must be one of fact and not opinion, and it must be unprivileged. For statements made by public persons or regarding matters of public interest, the statement must be made with malice rather than ordinary negligence.

The President argues that his statement was one of opinion rather than fact. This is very likely the case. Because the President did not claim to be witness to or have personal knowledge of this event (or non-event, as the case may be), his statement was by its nature one of opinion regarding the general veracity of Ms. Clifford’s allegation.

The President also contends that this “tweet” was made in accordance with his official duties and is therefore absolutely privileged from a claim for defamation. The Court is somewhat depressed by this line of defense and is not ready to consider whether the President’s “tweet” was within the scope of the solemn duties of the office once occupied by the likes of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who were unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) unable to spew their inner-most random thoughts to the American public in 140-character increments. (“Never chopped down cherry tree. Propaganda from losers Lyin’ Al Hamilton and Little Aaron Burr.” Tweeted George Washington never.)

Therefore, this issue hinges upon the truthfulness of the “tweet” at issue, as truth is also an absolute defense to Ms. Clifford’s defamation claim. To this end, the Court orders both parties to begin gathering sworn statements from every medium height, medium build, generic looking male in the Continental United States (but not Alaska or Hawaii) that they either did or did not threaten Ms. Clifford in the manner she alleges. Only then will the Court rule upon this issue.

(2) Did Ms. Clifford Sustain Damages? Ms. Clifford argues next that the President’s remarks harmed her reputation and discouraged others from associating or dealing with her. Ms. Clifford argues that reputation for truthfulness and integrity is the sine qua non for success in the adult film industry.

Ms. Clifford also contends that some past associates refuse to deal with her anymore, hence the reason she has to spend so much time associating with new friends Anderson Cooper, Jimmy Kimmel, Rolling Stone Magazine, and the casts of The View and Saturday Night Live. Crowds for her recent tour have been similarly tepid, hence the reason Ms. Clifford claims that she expects to earn far less in 2018 than in years past.

The Court cannot imagine what type of harm Ms. Clifford can claim to endure while being so thoroughly fêted in mainstream media and pop culture. As such, Ms. Clifford cannot claim any sort of special damages arising from ridicule and must be able to prove a loss of earnings as a result of the President’s “tweet.”

The Court will wait for Ms. Clifford to produce her 2018 tax returns, as well as returns from 2006 through the present. If she has indeed suffered harm to her reputation, it will appear in the form of diminished earnings from years past.

IT IS SO ORDERED. (Thank God that’s over for now.)

Judge Vincent P. Zuccaro

If you have questions about defamation or non-disclosure agreements, please contact Anthony Law.