Trump admission of malicious reasons for suing a reporter reminds us why we need anti-SLAPP statutes

An article by Paul Farhi in this morning’s Washington Post discusses a lawsuit filed by Donald Trump against the Timothy O'Brien, a financial author who wrote a book about Trump's business career.  Among other things, the book questioned whether Trump is quite as wealthy as he claims; the author’s opinion was that Trump had exaggerated his assets by a factor of 20, and that his net worth was ”only” $150 million to $250 million, not the claimed "five to six billion."  Trump alleged that this low estimate was defamatory and that the low estimate had hurt his business, seeking $5 billion in damages, even though he admitted in a deposition that his contentions about the actual value of his estimates was based on his “feelings . . . about my value to myself.” (The deposition transcript is here).

After several years of litigation, including an appeal over disclosure of the reporter's sources, this "libel lawsuit over being called a 'millionaire'" was dismissed on summary judgment; that dismissal was affirmed on appeal. You would have thought that the suit might have been dismissed on the ground that assessments of the value of Trump's assets are a matter of opinion based on disclosed fact (and the appellate opinion affirming summary judgment contains some discussion of that point), but the main ground on which O’Brien prevailed on summary judgment was Trump’s inability to show actual malice by the necessary clear and convincing evidence.

Farhi interviewed Trump about the litigation and reported this astonishing Trump explanation about why he had brought the litigation:

"Trump said in an interview that he knew he couldn’t win the suit but brought it anyway to make a point. 'I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.'”

Now, Trump has enough money that the prospect of having to pay O’Brien’s legal fees might not have been a deterrent to taking O'Brien through the wringer (Farhi also reports that Trump’s own cost of the litigation the five year course of the litigation was “more than $1 million in legal fees”).  But at least an anti-SLAPP statute could have secured early dismissal for O’Brien as well as provided for an award of legal fees to O'Brien.

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