Trump, lawyer hit with $937,989 sanctions in Clinton case
Former President Donald Trump and one of his top lawyers were ordered by a judge to pay a total of almost $1 million in legal fees and costs to Hillary Clinton, her 2016 campaign and more than a dozen political operatives who he alleged ran a vast conspiracy to damage his reputation.
The suit is part of a long pattern of abuse of the courts by Trump and his lawyers and “should never have been brought,” US District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks said in a ruling Thursday in West Palm Beach, Florida.
“Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start,” the judge said. “No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognisable legal claim.”
Trump, his lead attorney, Alina Habba, and her law firm were held jointly liable for $937,989. The sanctions were issued on behalf of 18 defendants, who submitted a joint motion accusing Trump of knowingly filing a suit with bogus and unbelievable claims to dishonestly advance a political narrative.
The ruling is the latest legal setback for Trump, who was not deterred by his failed lawsuits challenging the result of the 2020 presidential election. Earlier this month, his lawyers barely escaped sanctions over their failed arguments against New York Attorney General Letitia James’s civil fraud suit against him and his company, which goes to trial in October. And a suit Trump filed against James in Florida was dismissed last month by Middlebrooks, who said that case had “all the telltale signs of being both vexatious and frivolous.”
Habba didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The ruling came hours after Habba appeared in New York state court to argue against dismissal of a $100 million lawsuit Trump filed against his niece Mary Trump and the New York Times over its award-winning 2018-story on the former president’s taxes. The judge overseeing that case Thursday repeatedly suggested the damages sought by Trump could be viewed as intimidation.
Middlebrooks, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, said in his ruling in Trump’s Florida suit against Clinton that filing such lawsuits “undermines the rule of law, portrays judges as partisans, and diverts resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm.”
The judge rejected any notion that Trump’s lawyers were the only ones at fault.
“Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries,” the judge said. “He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer.”
Trump’s suit repeated many of his grievances over the FBI’s 2016 investigation into whether his presidential campaign was colluding with Russia to influence the election that year, alleging the entire probe was the result of a Democratic-led conspiracy to undermine his presidency and tarnish his reputation. Along with Clinton, he named former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta, British intelligence ex-agent Christopher Steele and many others.
The judge blasted Trump’s lawyers for stacking the lawsuit with details from criminal complaints against former Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann and Russian business analyst Igor Danchenko, who were charged by the US Justice Department special counsel investigating the FBI’s handling of the Trump-Russia probe. The allegations against both men were seized upon by Trump and his allies as evidence that Democrats and their Justice Department allies conspired to undermine Trump starting in 2015. While many faults in the FBI probe were uncovered, both cases ended in acquittal.
“A criminal indictment should be no more than the starting point for a lawyer’s good faith pre-filing investigation,” the judge wrote. “The danger of overreliance has been demonstrated here, in light of the acquittals of Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Danchenko.”
Middlebrooks dismissed Trump’s suit in September, calling it a “manifesto.” The judge in November ordered Habba and another lawyer to pay $50,000 to the court and $16,274 in legal fees and costs to one of the defendants, Democratic political operative Charles Dolan, who was involved in Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and filed his own motion for sanctions.
The case is Trump v. Clinton, 22-cv-14102, US District Court, Southern District of Florida.
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