Issa Ordered to Pay Applegate’s Legal Fees in Defamation Case
After suing his campaign opponent for defamation, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, who was named House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman in 2011 and is a nine-term Republican congressman, was ordered to pay more than $45,000 in legal fees. The San Diego-area Republican filed a lawsuit in November alleging Democrat Doug Applegate’s television ads hurt his image.
Applegate’s commercials aired in San Diego and Orange counties prior to last year’s election. Issa had argued that a line in the ad would inaccurately cause viewers to conclude he had used his official position to enrich himself. “It basically implied that it was the speech of the newspapers, not that of the (Applegate) campaign’s design. And that’s where the statements were false and not privileged,” Issa’s attorney Chuck Bell said.
Judge Richard Strauss ruled in March, however, that Issa did not adequately prove his case. In fact, he not only failed to prove Applegate’s claim was wrong, but his wealth and status increased during his tenure in office. Strauss called the statements in question “substantially true” and added that Issa voted against a bill that would have provided health care to first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attack and that the ad did not claim that tea party Republicans exclusively voted against the measure. Issa had pointed out that the bill was voted down by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
Applegate’s argument that he was exercising his right to free speech was upheld. Robert Dempsey, Appelgate’s campaign manager, called the judge’s decision a victory for free speech. “Quite frankly, we’re very glad that the court found in our favor,” Dempsey said. “Not only are we thrilled, but that what we did was proven to be on the right side of the issues.”
Now, Issa must reimburse Applegate, his campaign and Dempsey, paying out a total of $42,500 in attorney fees and $2,842 in other legal expenses the defendant incurred. Applegate had initially asked the court to order over $138,000 in attorney fees, but Issa appealed in May, and Strauss found that some of Applegate’s attorney’s work was unneeded and over the top, and the charges were far too high, so the court denied full payment.
“While high profile in nature, since the parties were a sitting United State (sic) Congressman and his congressional opponent, the legal issues were not particularly novel or complex. In addition, a number of tasks billed appear unnecessary or exceptionally high for the work performed,” Strauss wrote in his decision.
Bell said he disagrees with some of the decisions and that his client will appeal the decision. He felt the judge took an “overly broad” view of the Applegate’s ad comments. A scrolling statement on Issa’s website states “Seen the false and misleading ads? Get the facts.”
Applegate will run against Issa again in 2018, along with attorney Mike Levin and businessman Paul Kerr – all Democrats. Issa was re-elected last year after defeating Applegate by only 1,621 votes. The result marked the closest congressional race in the country.