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Judge Awards Boehner $60K Plus Attorney’s Fees From McDermott

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) has been ordered to pay Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) $60,000 in damages, plus “reasonable” attorney’s fees that could total more than $500,000, a federal judge ruled in the latest round of a long-running legal struggle between the two lawmakers.

Boehner has spent nearly $550,000 on legal fees during the five-year lawsuit, although it is unclear how much of that total will end up being covered by McDermott. That decision will come after the Washington Democrat determines whether to file an appeal.

Mike DeCesare, McDermott’s communications director, said the eight-term lawmaker and his legal advisers are still analyzing the ruling and have not decided what their next move will be. “It’s a complex legal case, it’s a complex decision. The only thing that makes sense is to let the people who understand best look at it and go from there,” said DeCesare.

A legal defense fund created by McDermott to defray the costs of Boehner’s lawsuit has paid roughly $350,000 in legal costs so far, and McDermott still owes his lawyers another $22,000.

The ruling by Judge Thomas Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia was issued Oct. 22 and made public this week.

The groundbreaking case stems from a December 1996 phone call among House GOP leaders to discuss strategy for handling the ethics case against then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Boehner, who at the time was GOP Conference chairman, took part in the call using a cellphone while parked at a northern Florida restaurant. The call was electronically intercepted by a Florida couple, Alice and John Martin, who eventually gave a copy of the tape to McDermott. He then gave the tape to three newspapers.

In March 1998, Boehner sued McDermott, alleging that the Washington Democrat had violated both federal and Florida wiretapping statutes by leaking the tape to the media. Since that time, there have been numerous legal twists and turns in the case, including a 1999 decision by Hogan to dismiss it that was later overturned by an appeals court, which then sent the case back to Hogan. Settlement talks in 2002 collapsed, and the two sides continued to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their legal teams, shelling out approximately $900,000 overall, according to the latest estimates.

In his decision to award Boehner both statutory and punitive damages totaling $60,000, Hogan criticized McDermott’s “outrageous conduct in this case.” Hogan added: “The Court finds that Defendant’s conduct was malicious in that he intentionally disclosed the tape to the national media in an attempt to politically harm the participants through an invasion of their privacy.”

Boehner’s attorney, Michael Carvin of the firm Jones Day, said he expects that McDermott will eventually have to cover all of Boehner’s legal bills. “You always have nibbling at the margins, but we have a good reasonableness argument here,” said Carvin. “We’re quite pleased” with the ruling.

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