Trump Lawyers Sanctioned Yet Again
I have discussed how hard it is to be a Trump lawyer. To be a Trump lawyer is to risk strong sanctions from a court, potential bar disciplinary action, and even potential criminal investigation. Having followed this, every instance of all that is well deserved.
Now a new batch of Trump attorneys have been hit by yet another judge with harsh sanctions for filing frivolous nonsense in federal court. The new group includes Alina Habba, who could face more attention in regards to the Mar-a-Lago classified documents matter. Habba has made quite a public name for herself, appearing at Trump rallies and conservative TV to make inflammatory claims.
The inflammatory claims here involve a lawsuit filed against Hillary Clinton, and dozens of other named defendants in her circle, that the judge in the case generously described as, “difficult to summarize in a concise and cohesive manner [and] certainly not presented that way.” Essentially the lawsuit accused the nearly three dozen defendants of conspiring to create the Steele Dossier, including false salacious sexual claims (the pee-pee stuff) all for the purpose of “destroying [Trump’s] life, his political career and rigging the 2016 Presidential Election.”
The numerous defendants motioned to dismiss the almost incomprehensible lawsuit under FRCP 12(b)(6) for failure to state of cause of action for which relief could be granted. Essentially, they argued that none of the facts alleged supported the torts claimed. The judge agreed. In a blistering decision the judge dismissed every count of the case against every defendant.
Language the judge used invited a motion for sanctions. At least one defendant, Charles Dolan, accepted that invitation. Dolan had been named in the lawsuit originally with Trump claiming he was “a former chairman of the DNC.” That was false he never was. When Dolan’s attorneys pointed this out to Trump’s attorneys, they changed the language to describe Dolan as “a senior official in the Clinton Campaign, and a close associate of and advisor to Hillary Clinton.” That was also false. The only thing poor Mr. Dolan did for the Clinton campaign was door to door canvassing.
Without getting into the weeds of the facts, Dolan motioned for sanctions under Rule 11 of the FRCP. The judge granted the motion for sanctions. While the penalty for such sanctions is normally simply compensating the aggrieved party for their attorney fees and costs, the judge took the unusual step of imposing special, punitive sanctions because of the deliberate nature of Trump counsel’s conduct. You can read the judge’s sanction decision, HERE.
While I invite you to read that 19 page decision, the judge concluded that the examples he presented regarding the clear misstatements of facts and law were:
“not an exhaustive list of the problems with Plaintiff’s legal theories, but they amply demonstrate how unreasonable and meritless the claims were as they pertained to Mr. Dolan. None of the claims against him — or any other defendant for that matter — had any chance of success, and this weighs strongly in favor of imposing Rule 11 sanctions.”
The judge found that rare additional sanctions were warranted because the entire complaint was advanced for an “improper purpose.” That improper purpose was politics, and not law.
“This was a shotgun lawsuit. Thirty-one individuals and organizations were summoned to court, forced to hire lawyers to defend against frivolous claims. The only common thread against them was Mr. Trump’s animus.
Plaintiff deliberately misrepresented public documents by selectively using some portions while omitting other information including findings and conclusions that contradicted his narrative . . .
Every claim was frivolous, most barred by settled, well-established existing law. These were political grievances masquerading as legal claims. This cannot be attributed to incompetent lawyering. It was a deliberate use of the judicial system to pursue a political agenda. But the courts are not intended for performative litigation for purposes of fundraising and political statements.
The conduct was willful, not simply negligent.”
In the end the judge expressed profound frustration that lawsuits like this would even be filed in this country. The judge suggested additional sanctions would be appropriate, and bar disciplinary proceedings.
“So who is responsible for this case and others like it? The rule of law is undermined by the toxic combination of political fundraising with legal fees paid by political action committees, reckless and factually untrue statements by lawyers at rallies and in the media, and efforts to advance a political narrative through lawsuits without factual basis or any cognizable legal theory. Lawyers are enabling this behavior and I am pessimistic that Rule 11 alone can effectively stem this abuse. Aspects may be beyond the purview of the judiciary, requiring attention of the Bar and disciplinary authorities. Additional sanctions may be appropriate.”
In regards to the sanctions motion brought by Dolan, and only Dolan, the judge ordered that he be compensated $16,274 for his cost of defending the lawsuit, and that Trump’s attorneys pay $50,000 more to the court to deter them and others from future misconduct of this nature.
The judge certainly seems open to additional sanctions motions from other defendants. I expect that invitation to be accepted as well.