By Ken Stone
San Diego-based Herring Networks sued Rachel Maddow for defamation — and saw the case thrown out of court. Now the owner of One America News is accusing the MSNBC star’s defenders of charging “astronomical rates” on legal bills.
“The court should award no more than $84,995.80 in fees,” said Herring lawyer Amnon Siegel.
In an 18-page filing Friday, Siegel noted that lawyers defending Maddow, MSNBC and owner Comcast asked rates of $1,525 an hour for one partner and $1,395 for another.
U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant — who decides how much Herring will pay — should reject Maddow’s request for a “market-shattering fee award,” he said, asking that it be based on “reasonable market rates and hours appropriately spent.”
Siegel said Maddow’s team noted requested rates from the $59 billion Pacific Gas & Electric bankruptcy in the San Francisco-based Northern District of California, “which are still lower than Defendants’ exorbitant rates.”
He said Maddow’s strategy seems to be asking an “outlandish rate” that, even when reduced, amounts to above-market fees.
“This strategy should not be countenanced,” wrote the Los Angeles-based lawyer who also noted Herring’s pending appeal.
“Plaintiff suggested that Defendants raise the issue of attorneys’ fees after resolution of the appeal, when it would either be moot or could be handled more efficiently in combination with their fees motion for the appeal,” Siegel wrote.
In cases involving an anti-SLAPP motion, defense attorneys are entitled to bill the plaintiff legal fees. But the judge decides what’s reasonable.
Siegel said that after adjusting for inflation, Bashant should lower recoverable hourly rates to prevailing local rates: $535 for partners, $300 for senior associates and $260 for junior associates.
The Maddow lawyers have until July 10 to respond to Siegel’s plea for lower fees.
The highest-paid Maddow attorney — First Amendment expert Ted Boutrous — has been in the news this week as he fights on behalf of President Trump’s niece, Mary, who wants to publish a tell-all book called “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.”
(A New York state judge issued an order prohibiting Simon & Schuster from publishing the book before the case is decided.)
“On top of overbilling, overstaffing and excessive hourly rates, Defendants are also requesting fees that are not recoverable under the anti-SLAPP statute, including fees for procedural matters and case management unrelated to the anti-SLAPP motion,” Siegel wrote.
Based upon reasonable hourly rates, he said, Maddow’s legal team could potentially recover $123,329.78.
“From this amount, an additional $28,890 should be cut … for a total of $94,439.78,” Siegel wrote. “Then the additional 10% reduction for unnecessary and duplicative work should be applied, resulting in a final recoverable amount of $84,995.80.”
Meanwhile, a person familiar with OAN’s financial health told Times of San Diego that the Trump-boosting network fails to pull in a lot of ad revenue.
“In fact, it wasn’t until recently the network was able to partner with another company to get commercials,” said the source requesting anonymity. “Before this, OAN ran in-house produced historical pieces and propaganda during their newscast breaks for years.”
The source said the Herring family has self-financed the operations of the relatively tiny network.
“They’ve spent a pretty penny on production studios and equipment that is largely underutilized,” the source said. “Staff turnovers are problematic, and Herring has been reducing staff gradually, trying to make the news outlet as turnkey as possible. Recent lawsuits from former employees, combined with the Maddow suit, has surely made a dent in the Herring family checkbook.”
In response, company founder and CEO Robert Herring Sr. said: “What garbage do you get your information from? We are hiring new qualified people every day. We have people offering us millions for our company.”
According to a recent Politico story citing four current OAN employees and two former OAN producers, most of the San Diego-based journalists consider themselves liberal.
“For some, taking a job at the national network was a way to leapfrog small regional broadcast jobs— a Faustian bargain they say leads to high turnover in the newsroom,” wrote Adam Wren.
Two anchors told Wren that employees were preparing broadcast reels and cover letters.
“For most of us, we are choosing between our journalistic integrity and whether or not we pay the rent,” a current OAN employee was quoted as saying. “Ultimately, the guy who signs your paycheck calls the shots.”
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