By Ken Stone
Fox News is taking no chances with a lawsuit filed last week by a Washington state nonprofit that called the cable network’s coronavirus coverage deceptive.
One of its lawyers helped George W. Bush halt a Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election. Another alumnus, Don McGahn, became Trump’s White House counsel.The 2,500-attorney outfit with 43 offices (including San Diego) on five continents recently was ranked the “strongest law firm brand” in America for the fourth straight year.
In a legal filing Monday, Fox News named four Jones Day attorneys who will seek court permission to argue in Washington state — Christopher Lovrien of Los Angeles, Emily Faye Knox of San Francisco, and Michael A. Carvin and Anthony J. Dick of Washington, D.C.
Also representing Fox News in King County Superior Court are Tyler L. Farmer, Kristin E. Ballinger and paralegal Kellie McDonald of the Seattle firm Harrigan Leyh Farmer & Thomsen — as mandatory in-state counsel.
“Exquisitely talented” is how 29-year attorney Catherine “Cat” Clark sees her Harrigan opposition. “I look forward to working with them.”
Clark, 56, this week joined Elizabeth “Liz” Hallock, 39, in representing plaintiff WASHLITE in the case drawing worldwide attention — the first lawsuit seeking to hold the conservative-leaning outlet accountable for allegedly minimizing the pandemic.
First named a “Super Lawyer” in 2011, Clark says she volunteered (but not pro bono) to join the plaintiff’s team after reading an initial news account.
“This case piqued my interest,” she said Wednesday in a phone interview from her Seattle office, across the street from an empty Amazon headquarters (“I’m looking straight at it”).Although real-estate litigation is her bread and butter, Clark joined the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics team because of her background in appeals and constitutional law.
“Every single brief I’ve ever written always has an appeal in mind,” she said. “I clerked for the state Supreme Court, and I learned that if you didn’t come from that perspective, then you weren’t writing your briefs right.”
A spokeswoman for Fox News declined to comment on the network’s legal team, which last year fended off a former Fox News female employee’s defamation and invasion-of-privacy case.
But Clark offered some thoughts on what to expect.
For one, she foresees a defense motion to dismiss the case, and she “absolutely” expects a Fox News effort to move the case to federal court.
“That is a usual tactic,” Clark said. “A classic defense tactic.”
Less certain is when motions will be heard by Judge Brian McDonald — assigned Friday to take the place of Judge Ken Schubert after WASHLITE said Schubert couldn’t provide a fair and impartial hearing — given court constraints amid the outbreak. McDonald might not end up the trial judge either. (In fact, the court schedule — including a trial date in March 2021 — was generated by a computer program, she said.)
Clark stressed that she didn’t write the original complaint, which cites violations of the state’s Consumer Protection Act.
“You might see something next week,” she said of a new legal filing that could make different arguments against Fox News. “Give me a week or so.”She concedes that some observers are “pooh-poohing” the suit and calling it frivolous, “but there are just as many people saying: ‘Right on!’ We just need to structure the case a little bit differently, I can tell you that.”
Her key priorities as she readies the case?
“Well, I don’t like to lose,” said Clark, a former University of Washington varsity swimmer (lettering all four years). “I work really, really hard.”
In comments posted on the original Times of San Diego story, some call the lawsuit “politically biased” or brought by “dotard left winger nuts in rabid froth.”
In response, Clark denied this was “a political case.”
“It is a case brought in the interest of the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the State of Washington under Washington law so that the citizens can be well-informed on the dangers of this pandemic and the steps necessary to prevent the spread of this disease,” she said via email.
Moreover, she said: “We are subject to the rules of professional conduct, [Civil Rules] 11 and other provisions relating to the practice of law and litigation in Washington State. We take these obligations seriously and undertake this matter with a somber tone. This case has been brought within those standards.”
Hallock said via email: “Consumer protection protects all consumers, just as COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate by party. Keeping our neighbors and healthcare workers safe transcends all political bounds. My sister is a nurse, my father a physician. This is about life and death and keeping everyone safe — it transcends politics.”
Clark and Hallock have both contributed to Democrats and liberal causes — with Hallock in fact a Green Party candidate for governor (after failed runs at Yakima City Council and state House of Representatives as a Democrat.)
A longtime Ralph Nader fan, Hallock said she thinks she gave to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
And opensecrets.org shows that Clark donated at least $2,300 to Democrats including Barack Obama (in 2008) and Joe Biden (in April 2019).
But Jones Day attorney Carvin has funneled tens of thousands of dollars to GOP candidates and causes. Indeed, his online bio notes he was “one of the lead lawyers, and argued before the Florida Supreme Court, on behalf of George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election Florida recount controversy.”
On the other hand, Carvin legal teammates Farmer and Lovrien of Seattle both are listed as Democratic donors — with Lovrien writing a $1,000 check to former presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper of Colorado in March 2019. (Farmer, like Lovrien, donated to the 2004 presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry).
In recent days, a flurry of stories have emerged that Fox News and co-defendant Rupert Murdoch have been “lawyering up” in anticipation of lawsuits tied to opinion hosts like Sean Hannity labeling the virus a “hoax.”
“When I’ve been talking to Fox insiders over the last few days,” said Fox News expert Gabriel Sherman, “there’s a real concern inside the network that their early downplaying of the coronavirus actually exposes Fox News to potential legal action by viewers who maybe were misled and actually have died from this.”
Plaintiff attorney Clark concurs.
“I think they’re taking it very seriously,” she said of the suit. “And they should. Jones Day is one of the top law firms in the United States.”
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: