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Bill Maher Got it Wrong

| February 18, 2013

By Steven J.J. Weisman
Legal Editor

BOSTON — In early January, comedian Bill Maher appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and stated to Leno, “Suppose that perhaps Donald Trump had been the spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan, because, well – I didn’t just make this up – the color of his hair…and the color of an orange orangutan is the only two things of nature of the same color.  So…”  Maher went on to say that he would be willing to donate $5 million to Trump that he could donate to the charity of his choice if he provided evidence that he was not the son of an orangutan.  Maher even came up with some possible charity choices for Trump, namely the “Hair Club for Men of the Institute for Incorrigible Douche-bag-ery.”

The entire reference to a $5 million donation to a charity in return for evidence of his birth was an obvious joke (although not apparently to Mr. Trump) relating to Trump’s continuous railing during the recent presidential campaign that President Obama needed to provide his long-form birth certificate to prove he was a native-born American.  When the president actually did so, Trump ridiculously moved on to offer $5 million to be paid to charities of the president’s choice if he would provide his college transcripts and passport applications.  As an aside, I wonder how much Trump would have offered for the president’s Blockbuster membership card.

It stretches credulity to think that Trump actually thought that Maher’s humorous comment was a serious offer and not merely a joke.  I have heard Trump interviewed and he does appear to have a sense of humor.  However, if Trump is to be believed, he failed to get the joke and instead had his lawyer, who apparently also is humorously challenged, send a letter to Maher along with a copy of Trump’s birth certificate and a demand of Maher to send Trump $5 million to go to Hurricane Sandy Victims, The Police Athletic League, The American Cancer Society, The March of Dimes and The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  I don’t suppose I would be too much of a nitpicker to point out that the form of birth certificate sent by Trump’s attorney was the short form that was unacceptable to Trump when such a birth certificate was provided to prove that President Obama had been born in Hawaii.

Maher, knowing a joke when he reads one, ignored the letter and a few weeks later, Trump filed a lawsuit alleging a breach of contract in the Superior Court of California.  Trump’s lawsuit is a joke and if it were not such an abuse of the courts and the justice system, it would be funny.  But it isn’t.

The Complaint filed by Trump’s lawyer reads like a press release.  Where commonly the plaintiff would be merely named as being a person and designate where he resides, Trump’s complaint totally irrelevantly states: “Mr. Trump is a prominent businessman, political commentator, popular television personality, number one best-selling author, and well-known philanthropist.  He has been responsible for the development of myriad of large-scale real estate projects around the world, including the trump World Tower, the Trump International Hotel and Tower, various residential apartment towers in cities such as Chicago, Las Vegas, and New York, and numerous luxury resorts and golf courses.”

The complaint lamely goes on to take the position that Maher is a political talk host and not a comedian.  In perhaps his biggest insult of Maher, Trump’s complaint comments that Maher’s HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher” “is not considered a ‘comedy’ broadcast.”  Apparently, Trump’s attorney was not aware of the fact that “Real Time with Bill Maher” has been nominated for an Emmy award in the category of Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series every year since 2005.  Of course, the reason for the allegation that Maher is not a comedian is obvious.  If he were a comedian, he would tell jokes and you would not take such outrageous comments as made by him on “The Tonight Show” seriously.  However, in Trump’s world it was a legitimate offer by a political commentator.

As you read further in Trump’s Complaint you find more totally irrelevant material, the inclusion of which baffles any lawyer’s mind.  In paragraph 11 of his Complaint Trump states, “In 2010, Mr. Trump indicated his potential interest in becoming a candidate for the Presidency of the United States in the 2012 elections.  A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted in March 2011 found that Mr. Trump enjoyed a higher public approval rating than any other potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.  A Newsweek poll conducted in February of 2011 showed Mr. Trump would enjoy the support of 41% of voters in a hypothetical race against President Obama, as against 43% support for the president.”  I do find it somewhat surprising the Trump decided to include that last sentence; perhaps it is evidence of his humility.

Trump’s Complaint tries to make the case that this is nothing but a simple contract case.  An offer was made, the offer accepted and the offeror breached the contract by failing to make the payment.  This argument is ludicrous.  In 1999 Pepsi Cola ran an advertisement where customers were shown merchandise they could buy using Pepsi points, such as T-shirts and mugs.  However, in the clever television advertisement a high school student, who otherwise would have been late for school, was able to fly his military Harrier Jet to school.  The advertisement went on to say that the Harrier Jet could be had for seven million Pepsi points.  An enterprising man presented Pepsi with seven million Pepsi points and then sued when Pepsi refused to provide him with the jet.  A federal court ruled that no reasonable person could have considered this a legitimate offer and for a contract to be formed a reasonable person would have had to consider that the offer made was not a joke.  The law is clear.

I am seriously hoping that Mr. Trump did not believe that anyone, even Bill Maher, was actually questioning whether he was human.  In case he flunked biology class, he should know that humans and orangutans cannot mate and have children.  A reasonable person would know this.

A reasonable person would not take a joke and file a frivolous lawsuit that is an insult to the justice system and a waste of judicial resources.  Jokes do not belong in the courtroom.  Section 128.7 of the California Code of Civil Procedure provides for sanctions against lawyers and clients who file frivolous lawsuits.  It is hard to imagine a case more deserving of such sanctions.

But Bill Maher got it wrong.

Donald Trump is not the son of an orangutan.

He is a horse’s ass.


Steven J.J. Weisman, a practicing attorney, is a senior partner in the talent management firm Harrison Strategies, LLC. He is also legal editor for TALKERS magazine and publisher of the He can be e-mailed at: Steven J.J. Weisman is available as a guest to discuss the subjects of identity theft and scams. Meet Steven J.J. Weisman at TALKERS New York 2013 on Thursday, June 6.

Category: Legal