Trump and lawyer ordered to pay $1m for bringing ‘frivolous’ lawsuit against Hillary Clinton
"In scathing ruling, US district court judge writes, ‘misuse of the courts by Mr Trump and his lawyers undermines the rule of law’
A federal judge has ordered Donald Trump and one of his attorneys to jointly pay nearly $1m in penalties for pursuing a frivolous lawsuit that accused Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and other perceived enemies of the former president of engaging in racketeering and concocting a vast conspiracy against him.
The penalty caps a bruising case for Trump, who had the suit dismissed in September and Trump was ordered to pay tens of thousands in November after one defendant sought sanctions. The latest order came after a group of the remaining defendants, including Clinton, filed a separate request for sanctions.
The end of the lawsuit marks the latest legal setback for Trump as he grapples with an array of civil and criminal investigations, including the inquiry into his retention of sensitive documents, while some of his lawyers are under scrutiny themselves for conduct in those cases.
In a scathing ruling, US district court judge Donald Middlebrooks castigated Trump and his lead attorney, Alina Habba, for abusing the legal system by advancing a lawsuit that furthered his political grievances over the 2017 Russia investigation using arguments replete with misinformation and errors.
“We are confronted with a lawsuit that should never have been filed, which was completely frivolous, both factually and legally, and which was brought in bad faith for an improper purpose,” Middlebrooks wrote in the 46-page order imposing sanctions of $937,989.39 against Trump and Habba.
The lawsuit, originally filed by Trump in March 2022, alleged that Clinton and the Democratic National Committee conspired with senior FBI officials and others before the 2016 election to fabricate ties between the Trump campaign and Russia in order to damage him politically.
But Middlebrooks dismissed the case after he found that Trump engaged in a scattershot pleading that amounted to an obstruction of justice, and which included allegations that were known to be false. His legal arguments, including racketeering and conspiracy, were found to be without foundation.
The judge noted for instance that Trump’s allegations that former FBI director James Comey conspired with Clinton to prosecute him was wrong – as Trump was never prosecuted – while such a conspiracy was implausible since Comey probably damaged Clinton’s 2016 campaign by reopening the investigation into her emails.
“I find that the pleadings here were abusive litigation tactics. The complaint and amended complaint were drafted to advance a political narrative; not to address legal harm caused by any defendant,” Middlebrooks wrote of Trump’s lawsuit.
The judge also found that Trump’s racketeering and conspiracy lawsuit appeared to be part of a pattern by the former president of misusing the courts by filing frivolous lawsuits in order to serve a political purpose.
“Misuse of the courts by Mr Trump and his lawyers undermines the rule of law, portrays judges as partisans, and diverts resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm,” he wrote.
Middlebrooks examined other seemingly politically motivated lawsuits filed by Trump and wrote that they all followed a playbook of including provocative rhetoric, political language carried over from rallies, attacks on political opponents and, typically, a lack of legal analysis.
“Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries. He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process,” the judge wrote. “He knew full well the impact of his actions.”
The immediate fallout of the sanctions order was not clear. Trump had wanted to drop the lawsuit after the case was assigned to Middlebrooks, an appointee of Bill Clinton, but Habba told Fox News in a segment referenced in the ruling that she had advised him to press ahead.
On Friday, Trump withdrew his lawsuit against the New York state attorney general, Letitia James, which was also being overseen by Middlebrooks and was cited as an example of “vexatious” litigation from Trump in his order imposing sanctions in the suit against Clinton and the DNC.
Trump and Habba – as well as her law firm Habba, Madaio and Associates – are jointly liable for the $1m penalty, though the former president indicated to associates that he essentially believed it should be paid by his attorney instead of him, according to sources familiar with the matter.
A spokesperson for Trump could not be reached for comment. A spokesperson for Habba did not provide comment.
The penalty handed down by the judge, designed to discourage future frivolous lawsuits, is in addition to a $50,000 fine imposed in November and $16,000 in reimbursement of legal costs for Charles Dolan, a Democratic public relations executive, who filed the first sanctions request.
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