(Bloomberg) -- Stephanie Clifford, the adult movie star professionally known as Stormy Daniels, said her former lawyer colluded with Donald Trump’s long-term attorney Michael Cohen in a bid to make her lie about her alleged tryst with Trump.
Keith Davidson represented Clifford in 2016 when Cohen paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in 2006. Davidson and Cohen exchanged a series of messages in January to have Clifford appear on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show and have her refute a 2011 interview In Touch Weekly published that month, describing her encounter with Trump, according to a complaint filed Wednesday in state court in Santa Monica, California.
Davidson also tipped off Cohen in February when he found out that Clifford was changing lawyers and was planning to publicly disclose her relationship with Trump and in March when he learned that she was about to sue Cohen and Trump, according to her lawsuit.
"The disclosure of any information to Mr. Cohen regarding Ms. Clifford’s contemplated action was a clear violation of Mr. Davidson’s duty of loyalty and obligation to maintain Ms. Clifford’s client confidences," according to the complaint, which was filed by Clifford’s current lawyer, Michael Avenatti.
Clifford accuses Davidson of breach of fiduciary duty and Cohen of aiding and abetting Davidson’s disloyalty to her. She seeks at least $100,000 in damages.
If it’s true that Davidson used Clifford’s confidences to harm her, that’s a professional betrayal that can lead to large damages and discipline, said Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics professor at New York University.
"The claim against Cohen for aiding Davidson will be a challenge to win," Gillers said in an email. "Clifford will have to prove that Cohen knew that Davidson had no authority to do what is alleged."
A spokesman for Davidson said in an email that the lawyer was happy that Avenatti filed the case because it means he’s no longer bound by attorney-client confidentiality in connection with Clifford.
"The truth can now finally come out to rebut the false narrative about Attorney Davidson that Mr. Avenatti has been pushing in his more than 175 television appearances and countless other media interviews," his spokesman said.
Brent Blakely, a lawyer for Cohen, said he looks forward to defeating Clifford’s suit.
“This new lawsuit filed by Stephanie Clifford aka Stormy Daniels has no merit whatsoever as to my client, Michael Cohen, and appears to be yet another publicity stunt,” he said in an email.
Davidson also represented former Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal in 2016 when the National Enquirer paid her $150,000 for her story of an alleged affair with Trump 10 years earlier, intending not to publish it -- what’s known as a "catch and kill" deal. McDougal sued in March to get out the agreement and accused Davidson of colluding with the "other side" of the transaction and with Cohen. The case settled in April with the tabloid newspaper’s owner, American Media Inc., agreeing to restore McDougal’s ownership of the experience.
Davidson has been cooperating with a federal investigation of Cohen in a sign that prosecutors are closely scrutinizing payments to women in the run-up to Trump’s 2016 election. Investigators armed with search warrants on April 9 seized documents, computers, phones and a safe-deposit box from Cohen’s home, office and hotel room. Prosecutors told a Manhattan judge he’s the target of an investigation of his business and financial dealings.
Davidson represented another former Playboy model who was paid $1.6 million by former Republican National Committee official Elliott Broidy. Broidy has said he made the payment with Cohen’s legal help, after the woman said she’d been impregnated by Broidy. Davidson has denied any wrongdoing in connection with his representation of Daniels and McDougal.
On the surface, the communications between Davidson and Cohen don’t appear to be evidence of a breach of Davidson’s duty to his client, said John Perlstein, a Los Angeles civil litigator. Davidson worked for Perlstein’s firm when he was in law school about 19 or 20 years ago, Perlstein said.
"It seems logical that they would communicate about something related to the non-disclosure agreement that they negotiated," said Perlstein. "If you’re going to sue another lawyer, you’d expect something more substantial. Maybe there is more, maybe we’ll find out later."
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