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McDermott Owes Boehner $1 Million for Legal Fees

A U.S. District Court judge ruled Monday that Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) owes House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) more than $1 million in legal fees in their decade-long fight over an illegally taped cell phone call McDermott leaked to the media.

Boehner sued McDermott in 1998 after the Washington lawmaker obtained a recorded copy of Republican leaders, including Boehner, discussing the ethics case against then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in 1996. McDermott gave the tape to at least two newspapers, and a federal court ruled in 2004 that McDermott should not have released the recording. Subsequent appeals have upheld that ruling, and in December the Supreme Court declined to hear McDermott's final appeal. Boehner's attorneys had asked for McDermott to pay their legal fees going back to that first 2004 court ruling.

Judge Thomas Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled Monday that McDermott owed Boehner just over $1 million for legal fees, including interest. In a lengthy statement in response to the ruling, McDermott reiterated his belief that he had been exercising his First Amendment rights by giving the phone recording to the media.

"This has been a long and costly battle but, in the final analysis, the judgment handed down today in the U.S. District Court is a small price to pay in defense of so fundamental a principle, and freedom, as the First Amendment," McDermott said, later adding: "While the amount of damages assessed in this case is significant, I submit that defending the First Amendment is beyond measure and worth every penny."

In his own statement, Boehner said: "Congressman McDermott broke the law, and as a result, he shattered the bonds of trust between our institution and the men and women we represent in the halls of Congress. I remained committed to this case in order to begin restoring those bonds, and to uphold the belief that no one - not even Members of Congress - is above the law. With this decision, the American people can take comfort in knowing that these important principles have been reaffirmed."

McDermott has a legal defense fund that he can use to help defray the costs of the judgment. In the fourth quarter of 2007, the fund raised $65,000 and spent $89,000, including $64,000 in initial payments to Boehner's lawyers at Jones Day. The fund is not required to report how much cash it has on hand at any given time. As of Dec. 31, McDermott also had $612,000 in his reelection campaign account.

By Ben Pershing  |  April 1, 2008; 1:05 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules  
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