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!

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

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