Adult film actress Stormy Daniels' lawsuit against President Donald Trump has been assigned to a federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush.
Los Angeles-based U.S. District Judge S. James Otero picked up the case Monday, after lawyers for Trump and a firm controlled by Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen formally removed the case from state court.
The suit, filed by Daniels earlier this month in L.A. Superior Court, seeks to invalidate a non-disclosure agreement she signed before the 2016 election in exchange for a payment of $130,000. The deal called for Daniels to keep quiet about what she told friends was a sexual encounter and ensuing relationship with Trump about a decade earlier, but Daniels' suit contends that the contract was invalid because Trump never signed it.
Daniels‘ attorney, Michael Avenatti, said on Twitter last week that he believed Trump's effort to move to the case to federal court is an effort to preserve an arbitration provision in the agreement. Federal courts often enforce such provisions strictly, while state courts are sometimes more lax about enforcing them.
It's unclear whether Trump's effort to force the case into federal court will work.
In making the move last week, attorneys for Trump and Cohen's firm said Daniels—whose real name is Stephanie Clifford—is on the hook for more than $20 million in damages as a result of at least 20 violations of the confidentiality agreement she accepted.
However, one legal analyst said Monday that since Daniels' suit doesn't seek money damages, there's no basis to move it to federal court.
'There has to be more than $75,000 in controversy for a state case to be removed to federal court," said Wendy Murphy, a Boston attorney and women's rights advocate.
"Team Trump claims the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 because Daniels could be sued for 20 million dollars for violating the NDA 20 times. But the assessment of how much is in controversy is determined by the Plaintiff's lawsuit, not the defendant's response," she noted.
If Otero determines the case doesn't belong in federal court, it will be sent back to L.A. Superior Court for action there. Otero was a judge on that court before he was confirmed to his current judgeship in 2003.
Otero, a Republican, was recommended for the federal bench by a bipartisan screening committee in 2002. He has a conservative record in business and environmental cases.
However, in 2008, Otero tossed out a lawsuit alleging that a University of California policy discriminated against Christians by denying credit for high school courses based on textbooks that reject evolution and defend the Bible's explanations for natural phenomena.
And in 2005, Otero struck down a local ordinance aimed at banning day laborers from soliciting work on streets and sidewalks.
Otero is also handling litigation filed by a group of Yemeni citizens who claim to have had visas to immigrate to the U.S. delayed as a result of Trump's travel ban policies. Last August, the judge refused to certify the case as a class-action. The rest of the litigation is on hold awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court on the legality of Trump's orders.