Al Franken.
Al Franken. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.)

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., got in a subtle jab at an old legal foe—Fox News—during a Senate hearing Tuesday, thanks in part to longtime First Amendment advocate Floyd Abrams of Cahill Gordon & Reindel.

Franken began his questioning with the acknowledgement that he’s a former client of Abrams, who was testifying at the Senate Judiciary Committee about proposed restrictions on campaign finance.

“It’s good to see you Mr. Abrams. You actually defended me in a First Amendment case and you won, a brilliant…,” Franken said before Abrams interrupted him.

What Franken didn’t say: Abrams defended him in 2003 in a Fox News lawsuit over the title of Franken’s book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”

Fox alleged the book’s title infringed the trademark for “Fair and Balanced,” which the network registered in 1998. In the lawsuit, Fox called Franken a “C-level political commentator” who “appears to be shrill and unstable.”

Then-U.S. District Judge Denny Chin in New York concluded Fox’s case was “trying to undermine the First Amendment,” that the suit was “wholly without merit,” and the network’s registered trademark “Fair and Balanced” was weak.

At the time, Franken jabbed Fox when it dropped the suit, saying he was “disappointed” the network didn’t keep up interest in the book “for a few more news cycles.”

It was Abrams, at the hearing Tuesday, who brought up a conversation he had with Franken after the case.

“Thank you, I remember what you said to me after I won,” Abrams said, without naming Fox.

“What did I say?” Franken replied.

“Even a chimp could have won that case,” Abrams recalled.

“And I was right.” Franken said. “But you’re a brilliant lawyer.”

Contact Todd Ruger at truger@alm.com. On Twitter: @ToddRuger.