Karen McDougal — Impact Litigation

Karen McDougal
Los Angeles Superior Court

The Challenge

Representing model Karen McDougal in litigation against a major media organization over a contract that kept Ms. McDougal from telling the story of her 2006-07 relationship with President Donald Trump.

The Engagement

On March 20, 2018, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. McDougal against American Media, Inc. (AMI), a major media organization who owns the National Enquirer and other widely distributed magazines. The complaint alleged that McDougal’s contract with AMI was an attempt to “catch-and-kill” the story of her relationship with President Trump, and sought a declaration of contract invalidity from the court. It asked the court to set aside the contract on three grounds:

First, the contract was invalid for “fraud in the execution”—a legal concept that deems a contract to never have been formed where a party was deceived about its nature. Ms. McDougal was misled about the contract’s nature (believing it to be a legitimate modeling and writing contract) through the misconduct of her attorney, who was secretly colluding with the other side. As a result, the contract was never formed.

Second, the contract represented an illegal in-kind corporate donation to the Trump campaign. Weeks before we filed the complaint, the New York Times reported that, shortly after the contract was signed, Ms. McDougal’s own lawyer called President Trump’s lawyer to inform him that the “transaction” was complete. Because AMI entered into the contract to influence the election without reporting its contribution, the contract was made for an illegal purpose and was void.

Finally, the contract violated fundamental public policy. While discrediting her story, AMI used the contract to coerce Ms. McDougal into refraining from discussing her relationship with President Trump. Because this violated central tenets of American government, including freedom of expression and conscience and freedom of the press, the contract was void.

When the case was filed, it immediately sparked widespread attention from the press and public, and was prominently featured in national news. That created a pathway for Ms. McDougal to set the record straight, and defend herself from lies being spread about her and her relationship with President Trump.

On April 2, 2018, AMI filed an anti-SLAPP motion arguing that the lawsuit violated AMI’s First Amendment rights. On April 18, 2018, AMI agreed to a settlement through which Ms. McDougal achieved her core goal—reacquiring the rights to her life story so that she, and she alone, could exercise control over them.

The Result

We reached a prompt and favorable settlement with a major media organization that accomplished all of our client’s goals, including, crucially, having the rights to her own life story returned to her.

Key Case Materials

Settlement Agreement (April 18, 2018)

AMI's Anti-SLAPP Motion (April 2, 2018)

Our Complaint (March 20, 2018)

Media Coverage


Stris on MSNBC's Morning Joe (December 14, 2018)

Stris on MSNBC's The Beat with Ari Melber (April 19, 2018)

Stris on MSNBC's Morning Joe (April 19, 2018)

Stris on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show (April 18, 2018)

Stris on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer (March 26, 2018)

Stris on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer (March 23, 2018)

Stris on MSNBC's Morning Joe (March 23, 2018)

McDougal on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 (March 22, 2018)

Stris on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 (March 21, 2018)

Stris on CBS's This Morning (March 21, 2018)

Stris on ABC's Good Morning America (March 21, 2018)



Stris on NPR's All Things Considered (April 19, 2018)



Tabloid Publisher’s Deal in Hush-Money Inquiry Adds to Trump’s Danger (New York Times, December 12, 2018)

Publisher of the National Enquirer admits to hush-money payments made on Trump’s behalf (Washington Post, December 12, 2018)

National Enquirer owner admits paying ex-Playboy model $150,000 to squelch story, help Trump campaign (USA Today, December 12, 2018)

Federal prosecutors give National Enquirer publisher immunity over hush-money payment to purported Trump lover (CNBC, December 12, 2018)

Cohen recorded Trump discussing payment to ex-Playboy model (CNN, July 20, 2018)

Michael Cohen secretly taped Trump discussing Playmate hush money (NY Post, July 20, 2018)

In secret recording seized by FBI, Trump and Cohen discuss buying rights to model’s account of alleged affair (Washington Post, July 20, 2018)

Stris & Maher, the LA Boutique, Claims 'Total Victory' in Settlement About Alleged Trump Affair (National Law Journal, April 19, 2018)

Ex-Playboy Model, Freed From Contract, Can Discuss Alleged Trump Affair (New York Times, April 18, 2018)

National Enquirer publisher seeks to dismiss lawsuit brought by ex-Playboy model who claims affair with Trump (Washington Post, April 2, 2018)

Stormy Daniels Case Should Be Resolved Privately, Trump’s Lawyers Say (New York Times, April 2, 2018)

How Stris & Maher Connected With Ex-Playboy Model Who Claims Trump Affair (National Law Journal, March 23, 2018)

Trump’s Affairs and the Future of the Nondisclosure Agreement (New Yorker, March 30, 2018)

Former Playboy model who alleges affair with Trump sues company that didn't publish her story (CNN, March 30, 2018)

Playmate, porn star and reality TV contestant in court over Trump (Washington Post, March 20, 2018)

Ex-Playmate Who Alleges Affair With Trump Sues to End Pact That Silenced Her (Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2018)

Ex-Playboy Model Karen McDougal Sues to Speak on Alleged Trump Affair (New York Times, March 20, 2018)