Project Veritas on hook for Stanford legal tab after defamation ruling

The Hoover Tower rises above Stanford University in this aerial photo in Stanford, California, U.S. on January 13, 2017. REUTERS/Noah Berger
  • Federal judge dismissed group's lawsuit over academic blog post on elections
  • Project Veritas appealing dismissal to 9th Circuit

(Reuters) - The conservative group Project Veritas was ordered on Thursday to pay Stanford University nearly $150,000 in legal fees after a federal judge dismissed the activist organization's defamation lawsuit against the California school.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly of Seattle federal court awarded Stanford's attorneys at the firms Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and Miller Nash the full amount they requested in June following the dismissal of the complaint.

An academic blog post in September 2020 from a Stanford-affiliated nonpartisan coalition called the Election Integrity Partnership was at the heart of Project Veritas' lawsuit.

The blog post questioned a Project Veritas report about alleged "ballot harvesting" in Minnesota. Zilly's ruling dismissing the lawsuit said "the phrases in the blog post that Project Veritas challenges as defamatory are nonactionable opinions."

A spokesperson for Project Veritas on Friday said "Stanford was handed a dismissal on the basis that it published a report the court deemed non-factual — and now obtained a mandatory award of fees. Words have meaning, and we are appealing."

The group's challenge is pending in the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Project Veritas opposed Stanford's bid for fees.

Two lawyers for Project Veritas — Joel Ard of Ard Law Group and Libby Locke of Clare Locke — did not immediately respond to a request on Friday seeking comment.

Stanford and a spokesperson from the Election Integrity Partnership did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Pillsbury partner Sarah Flanagan in San Francisco, and Miller Nash's Brian Esler in Seattle, who represent Stanford, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In court filings, Stanford said its bid request for $150,000 was tied to the school's effort to dismiss the case.

"This amount represents just a portion of the roughly $290,000 in total attorneys' fees paid by Stanford in defending this action and the repeated threats of litigation by Project Veritas that preceded it," the university's lawyers told the court.

Flanagan, who regularly bills at $1,290 hourly, charged $891 an hour as a discount, filings in the case show. Pillsbury counsel Lee Brand, whose standard rate is $945 an hour, billed at $718 hourly in the litigation.

Zilly dismissed Project Veritas' lawsuit under the 2021 Washington state law the Uniform Public Expression Protection Act. Stanford's attorneys said the law "broadly protects speech on matters of public concern from meritless civil litigation."

The case is Project Veritas v. Leland Stanford Junior University and University of Washington, U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, No. 2:21-cv-01326-TSZ.

For Project Veritas: Joel Ard of Ard Law Group and Libby Locke of Clare Locke

For Stanford: Sarah Flanagan of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, and Brian Esler of Miller Nash

Read more:

New York Times is free to publish Project Veritas documents, appeals court rules

Project Veritas hires Washington law firm to lobby over FBI search

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.