A New York state judge has ordered former White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon to fork over nearly half a million dollars in unpaid fees to a law firm that says it represented Bannon in several high-profile matters, including helping him obtain a pardon in the final hours of the Trump presidency.
The New York-based firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron said Bannon paid only $375,000 of more than $855,000 in fees racked up from 2020 to 2022. The firm said its work included representing him on federal charges that he defrauded donors in a campaign to raise private funds to help build former president Donald Trump’s border wall — and helping him obtain a presidential pardon that led to the dismissal of those charges.
“Defendant cannot receive the benefit of plaintiff’s legal representation and then insist he need not pay for it,” said New York Supreme Court Justice Arlene P. Bluth in her ruling Friday.
As polls show Trump as the commanding front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, the squabble is a reminder of the ongoing legal troubles facing Bannon, who was once one of Trump’s top advisers and remains a powerful ally from his perch as an influential podcaster.
After Trump pardoned Bannon, the Manhattan district attorney’s office charged him last year with violating New York state laws against money laundering, fraud and conspiracy in relation to the “We Build the Wall” campaign. Bannon has denied the charges and is due to stand trial in May.
According to the complaint by Bannon’s former lawyers filed earlier this year, the firm also represented him in that case. And the firm said it represented Bannon when he received a subpoena to give evidence to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, and later when he was charged with criminal contempt of Congress for failing to appear. He was convicted last year and sentenced to four months in prison, which he is appealing.
Robert J. Costello, the firm’s partner in charge of representing Bannon, said in a court filing that the former Trump aide “publicly expressed his appreciation and praised me as a great lawyer.”
Bannon’s current lawyer responded in a court filing that the former Trump aide told Costello to “stop work” for him in January 2022 because he learned Costello had spoken to the FBI about the House committee subpoena, which Bannon said he did not authorize. The court filing also argued that the firm offered no evidence Bannon had “actually received” invoices.
But the firm filed correspondence with Bannon in court as evidence of its work at his direction after January 2022 and of his awareness of outstanding bills.
“Must Talk - very important but bad news,” Costello wrote in a Signal message at 10:41 a.m. on Aug. 30, 2022.
“I’m live on air. What’s up. Just had Rudy on,” Bannon responded, referring to Trump ally Rudy Giuliani’s appearance on his podcast.
“The Manhattan District Attorney just called me to let you know...They would not tell me what the charges are,” Costello said. Nine days later, Bannon was charged in the second We Build the Wall fraud case.
Another Signal message to Bannon on May 27, 2022, warns him about “outstanding bills.” Bannon responded one minute later: “I’m on it. Will wire some cash today.”
Bannon argued that the retainer he had signed with the firm related only to the federal fraud case.
But finding in the firm’s favor, Bluth quoted from the retainer, which said the firm could represent Bannon in “other matters and issues as may arise from time to time.” She awarded the firm $480,487.87 in unpaid fees plus the costs of bringing the suit.
Jeffrey Citron, co-managing partner of Davidoff Hutcher and Citron, said in a statement: “The firm was left with no recourse except to bring actions against Mr. Bannon. The firm intends to pursue every opportunity to collect our fees.”
Harlan Protass, an attorney now representing Bannon against the firm, said in email: “The judge’s decision was clearly wrong and we intend to immediately appeal it.”