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Porn star Stormy Daniels didn’t sue Trump for money, but for the right to speak out

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Legal analysis

Adult film star Stormy Daniels has filed a civil action against Donald Trump, asking a California court to declare that the nondisclosure agreement between them is not valid because Trump never actually signed it.

The complaint alleges Daniels had an intimate relationship with Trump between 2006 and 2007. Years later, during Trump’s presidential campaign, he and his attorney Michael Cohen “aggressively sought to silence” Daniels, allegedly to ensure Trump was elected president. Daniels says she was pressured into signing a nondisclosure agreement — which she calls the “Hush Agreement” — and that she was paid $130,000 for her silence.

This is not a lawsuit seeking money or other damages.

Rather, it asks the court for “declaratory relief” — finding that the “Hush Agreement” was either never formed or that it is unenforceable. The purpose of such a declaratory judgment is to resolve doubts that might otherwise eventually result in litigation, and to guide the parties’ future conduct to preserve their legal rights.

Daniels’ objective is to have the court clear up whether this contract really forces her to remain quiet. That could be important if Daniels seeks to profit by telling her story about her alleged relationship with Trump.

Because the nondisclosure agreement between Daniels and Trump contains an arbitration agreement, the court’s decision on the validity of the contract will likely also determine whether Daniels’ case even belongs in court.

Cohen has denied that Trump had a relationship with Daniels.

The Trump team has apparently already sought to place this case in arbitration — a maneuver that would surely benefit the president. The agreements attached to the complaint contain mandatory arbitration provisions with penalties for noncompliance.

Arbitration clauses are increasingly criticized as an unfair means of resolving disputes for individuals like Daniels. The high costs, secrecy, limited discovery and denial of court access are just a few of the many complaints about the proliferation of these clauses, which inherently favor corporations over the “little guy.”

If the court determines the contract between Daniels and Trump to be valid, then it will likely conclude the case belongs in arbitration, not in court, and Daniels’ claim will disappear from the public eye.

On the other hand, if the original contract and arbitration clause either never existed or is now unenforceable against Daniels, then Trump can’t force her into arbitration — and he can’t force her to keep quiet.

Daniels’ primary argument is that Cohen was the one who signed the agreements, and not “David Dennison” — Trump’s alias in the contracts attached to the complaints.

Cohen appears not to have signed for “Dennison”; he signed a separate signature line, on behalf of the entity “Essential Consultants.” The signature lines for Trump/Dennison in the documents are blank.

According to the allegations in Daniels’ complaint, this was not an oversight. It was allegedly a deliberate choice by Trump so that he could deny knowledge of the agreements if they surfaced publicly. If true, this was a tactical gambit by the Trump team, which could now prove fatal to the contract.

Attorneys routinely sign routine documents on behalf of their clients, with the permission of the clients. An attorney is authorized by virtue of his employment to bind the client in procedural or tactical matters that are incidental to litigation.

On the other hand, an attorney’s signature on documents may not bind or impair the client’s substantial rights, as in the case of settlement and compromise of claims.

Even if Cohen or another attorney for Trump had signed for Trump/Dennison, a court could conclude that the attorney’s signature was ineffective. In this case, nobody signed for Trump. The Trump team will surely argue that because Essential Consultants and Trump/Dennison were aligned, the signature of one is effective for both, and that Trump’s actual signature was never required.

The Trump team might also argue that because Trump performed his part of the bargain, Daniels accepted the contract payments, and she cannot now deny the agreement’s existence or fail to perform her obligations under it.

Danny Cevallos is an MSNBC legal analyst. Follow @CevallosLaw on Twitter.



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Tennessee to resume vaccine outreach efforts after ‘pause’ prompted by GOP backlash

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Tennessee’s top health official said Friday that the state is resuming its vaccination advocacy efforts after a “pause” to review marketing materials geared toward teenagers promoting inoculations against Covid-19, an initiative that provoked outrage among conservative politicians.

The scaling back of its vaccination outreach drew national attention when Tennessee’s top vaccination official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, a pediatrician, was fired last week after she said Republican lawmakers disapproved of her promoting Covid vaccines to eligible children.

On Friday, state Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey declined to discuss Fiscus’ departure, but addressed the larger issue with reporters, saying “there was a perception that we were marketing to children, and that totally was against our view of parental authority.”

“The reason we paused is because we wanted to leave no room for interpretation about where we are shooting: We are shooting to get the message to parents,” she said, adding “we strongly believe that parents are the best decision makers when it comes to medical decisions for their children.”

In June, Republican lawmakers rebuked the health department for how it targeted online posts toward children, including a digital graphic that had a photo of a child with a Band-Aid and the words, “Tennesseans 12+ are eligible for vaccines. Give COVID-19 vaccines a shot.”

The Tennessean, citing emails and an internal report, first reported last week that the state would halt all adolescent vaccine outreach, for all diseases. The newspaper also found that the health department had deleted some pro-vaccine posts on Facebook and Twitter and instructed employees to stop all vaccine-related posts aimed at teens before halting vaccine outreach posts altogether — and not only those related to the Covid vaccine.

The series of moves drew condemnation from state Democrats, who also blamed “anti-vaccine lawmakers from the controlling party” for removing Fiscus.

“A well respected member of the public health community was sacrificed in favor of anti-vaccine ideology,” state Sen. Raumesh Akbari, who represents Memphis, said in a statement. “This disgraceful hatchet job is going to endanger the lives of unvaccinated Tennesseans at a time when we have a safe and reliable way to protect our families from this virus.”

In an email to NBC News last week, Department of Health spokesman Bill Christian did not comment specifically on the reports that the state had halted all immunization outreach to minors, but said that the department “wants to remain a trustworthy source of information to help individuals, including parents, make these decisions.”

Fiscus said in an interview on MSNBC last week that her job was to roll out the Covid vaccine “across the state and to make sure that that was done equitably and in a way that any Tennessean who wanted to access that vaccine would be able to get one.” Her husband came forward to say she had received a dog muzzle at work only days before she was ousted.

She also said tension with GOP lawmakers escalated when she publicized a document on Tennessee’s “Mature Minor Doctrine,” a state Supreme Court ruling from 1987 that states Tennesseans ages 14 to 18 may be treated “without parental consent unless the physician believes that the minor is not sufficiently mature to make his or her own health care decisions.”

As the controversy mounted, Piercey had left the state on a vacation to Greece.

She said Friday that there may be “fringe and nuanced” situations in which a Covid vaccine may need to be given to a minor without parental permission, which The Tennessean reported contradicts a claim from Republican lawmakers who said the health commissioner had previously agreed to stop such a practice.

The fight over the vaccination of children in Tennessee comes as Piercey and public health officials have painted a grim picture with the surge in Covid cases and positivity rates — coinciding with much of the rest of the country — and said there’s been a 200 percent increase in Covid cases since July 1. About 97 percent of all hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated, and the state has struggled with a lagging vaccination rate, she added.

“We’re certainly going in the wrong direction for hospitalizations,” Piercey warned.

Antonio Planas contributed.

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Brexit outrage: Boris urged to hit back after Baroness Hoey exposes EU punishment plans

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BREXITEER outrage has erupted after Baroness Kate Hoey exposed attempts by the Republic of Ireland to worsen the ongoing rift between the EU and the UK.

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Trump 2017 inaugural committee chairman to be released on bail pending trial

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