Why We’re Stuck With $650,000 in Legal Fees, Despite Beating the Billionaire Who Sued Us


Ever since we wrote about MoJo‘s major victory in court against a billionaire political donor, you’ve been asking us: Can you recover your attorney’s fees? The answer, unfortunately, is pretty much:

Here’s why.

Under what is known as the American rule, everyone involved in litigation in the United States is responsible for his or her own legal fees, unless a specific state or federal law says otherwise. One exception involves anti-SLAPP statutes—state laws designed to prevent powerful people from shutting down critics by tying them up with expenses and paperwork, often via defamation lawsuits. (SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.) Twenty-nine states have laws against SLAPP suits, and there’s a push—championed by a Republican congressman from Texas—to pass one at the federal level as well.

Idaho, where Frank VanderSloot is based, and where he filed the defamation case against Mother Jones, does not have an anti-SLAPP law. What’s more, in her order granting victory to Mother Jones, the judge specified that VanderSloot’s was not a “frivolous” lawsuit. Under existing Idaho law, we would have to show, in front of the same judge, that the lawsuit was pursued “frivolously, unreasonably or without foundation” in order for her to let us recover attorney’s fees. Not very likely.

So that’s why we’re stuck with the $650,000 in out-of-pocket costs we incurred. Readers have pitched in more than $160,000 to help us cover that hole in just the past week. You can join them here. With you at our back, we can keep standing tall.

UPDATE: First Look Media’s Legal Defense Fund has agreed to match $74,999 in reader contributions to help us defray the cost of the litigation. Hooray!

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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