(Reuters) - Adult-film star Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit against U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, will be paused for 90 days, the federal judge in the case ordered on Friday, saying that Cohen’s constitutional rights could be endangered if the lawsuit proceeds while he is under criminal investigation.
“The court finds that there is a large potential factual overlap between the civil and criminal proceedings that would heavily implicate Mr Cohen’s Fifth Amendment rights,” District Judge James Otero wrote in the order, referring to the Constitution’s protection against self-incrimination.
Cohen has admitted paying $130,000 to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, to secure her silence about having sex with Trump, which he denies. Cohen said the payment was legal, and Daniels has sued to end her nondisclosure agreement.
Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti promptly pledged to fight the stay, writing on Twitter he would file an immediate appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California, which could ultimately lead the Supreme Court to weigh in.
Cohen said earlier this week he would invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions in the lawsuit after the FBI raided his home, office and hotel room two weeks ago. The amendment states no individual can be “compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”
Cohen and the federal government have indicated the criminal investigation and some seized documents relate to the hush-money payment at the heart of the lawsuit, even though the probe’s precise subject has not been publicly disclosed, Otero wrote.
He added Cohen will probably be indicted.
“This is no simple criminal investigation; it is an investigation into the personal attorney of a sitting President regarding documents that might be subject to the attorney-client privilege,” Otero wrote. “Whether or not an indictment is forthcoming, and the court thinks it likely based on these facts alone, these unique circumstances counsel in favour of stay.
Daniels had argued the lawsuit should proceed, with Cohen invoking the Fifth Amendment only for specific questions that might lead to self-incrimination.
But Otero wrote that approach could lead to Cohen not answering any questions, rendering a deposition useless.
Reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington; Editing by Eric Beech, Rosalba O'Brien and Cynthia Osterman