Judge Brian McDonald in Seattle Superior Court has been asked to order WASHLITE to pay regular court costs in case involving Fox News coverage of COVID-19. Image via YouTube.com

Fox Corp. used six lawyers — including four from powerful top-ranked firm Jones Day — to fend off a lawsuit by a Washington state watchdog group.

Reuters reported two years ago that Jones Day’s average partner billing rate was $950 an hour.

So how much is Fox asking for compensation as the prevailing party in the coronavirus coverage case?

Fox Corp. request for court costs in WASHLITE suit. (PDF)

According to a legal filing Thursday, Fox wants $334.94.

That’s no surprise, though, since Fox never asked the court for sanctions against the nonprofit Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics, or WASHLITE. The cable network’s parent comany didn’t seek attorneys fees.

A Seattle Superior Court judge dismissed the case nine days ago on First Amendment grounds, with Fox never labeling WASHLITE’s suit as bad faith or not having legal justification — though it did term the complaint “frivolous.”

Even so, WASHLITE’s Arthur West is disputing the proposed bill.

“Fox is entitled to their $200 by law, and we have no problem rendering unto Fox that which is Fox’s,” West said via email Friday. “We will object to the requested amount to the extent it exceeds $200, and will post the full amount due as soon as the order is entered. We would also point out that for counsel making $350 an hour, collecting a $200 cost bill is largely an academic exercise.”

Under the so-called American Rule, both sides of a lawsuit pay their own legal fees.

“Absent statutory law to the contrary,” West said, “parties bear their own costs.”

When WASHLITE first sued in April, a Fox Corp. lawyer said: “Wrong on the facts, frivolous on the law. We will defend vigorously and seek sanctions as appropriate.”

Fox ended up not seeking sanctions — which West figured could have been tens of thousands of dollars or “maybe more.”

“They would have had to raise that in the pleadings,” West said in a phone interview. “And they did not. In cases like that, it’s rare to have an awarding of fees.”

A Fox News spokeswoman would say only that the filing speaks for itself. But in its filing Thursday, Fox lawyers said they didn’t believe WASHLITE’s lawsuit — “however ill-advised and misguided” — was malicious.

“Rather, it appears that plaintiffs and their counsel were caught up in the partisan anti-Fox fervor fomented by some pundits and agitators,” the filing said. “Fox therefore will not move for sanctions.”

“In the true spirit of the First Amendment, Fox will combat plaintiffs’ false accusations with its own true speech, and will continue to advance its mission of accurate reporting and clear opinions on the coronavirus pandemic and other issues of public importance. Accordingly, Fox seeks only the following statutory attorney fees and costs.”

West, the WASHLITE board member and spokesman, said via email: “We have been watching with horror and consternation our chief executive’s meltdown over the last ten days and wondering if and to what extent our civil government may be subject to a militarist coup d’état, so our timeline for this appeal is a little behind.”

But assuming the “continuity of civil government,” WASHLITE will file a notice of appeal Judge Brian McDonald’s ruling by Monday in the state’s appeal court.

“We are very encouraged by the rulings of the 9th Circuit and our Supreme Court in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, in that they appear to indicate that the rule of law may survive the current converging crises and the aberrant
actions of our present federal executive.”

In the phone interview, West added: “David doesn’t always have to win against Goliath, you know. You fight a guerrilla war. You don’t always win every engagement. But the important thing is that you don’t give up, and we’re not giving up. We’re going to appeal.”

Itemized bill from Fox Corp., which wants judge in WASHLITE case to order payment in wake of suit’s dismissal.
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