Trials & Litigation

After sanctions threat, Trump lawyer in $83.3M defamation case drops conflict claim stemming from BigLaw overlap

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Alina Habba, a lawyer for former President Donald Trump, speaks to the media outside the New York City courthouse, where Trump was testifying Nov. 6, 2023. (Photo by Ted Shaffrey/The Associated Press)

A lawyer for former President Donald Trump is backing away from a claim that an opposing lawyer and the judge in a defamation case involving writer E. Jean Carroll had an undisclosed conflict of interest.

Trump lawyer Alina Habba had told the New York Post she will appeal an $83.3 million verdict against Trump partly because the plaintiff’s lawyer and the judge both worked at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in the 1990s.

Habba said in a Jan. 30 letter to U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York she is now satisfied that there was no “mentor-mentee relationship” between Kaplan and opposing lawyer Roberta Kaplan, who are not related, when they worked at Paul Weiss.

Law360, Reuters and Bloomberg Law have coverage.

Habba had raised the issue in a prior letter, leading Roberta Kaplan to respond that the accusation of such a relationship was “utterly baseless” and she reserved the right to seek sanctions if Habba continues her “false accusations of impropriety.”

“From the very start of the recently concluded trial, Donald Trump and Ms. Habba have pushed a false narrative of judicial bias so that they could characterize any jury verdict against Trump as the product of a corrupt system,” Kaplan wrote in her own letter to the judge.

Jurors awarded $83.3 million to Carroll on Friday in the writer’s second defamation lawsuit against Trump for denying her claims of sexual assault in a department store dressing room during two time periods—before October 2022 and after a defamation verdict in May 2023 in the first case. Jurors awarded Carroll $18.3 million in compensatory damages for defamation and $65 million in punitive damages.

Jurors in the first case found that Trump had sexually abused Carroll but did not rape her. Carroll was awarded $5 million in damages in the prior case partly for the sexual assault under a law giving survivors a one-year window to sue for time-barred claims and partly for defamation stemming from a denial by Trump in October 2022.

Habba still plans to appeal both verdicts. Habba said in her first letter to Kaplan his “overtly hostile” treatment of Trump and his “preferential treatment” of Carroll’s lawyers would be an issue in her appeal.

Another issue in the second case could be whether the punitive damages are excessive under the due process clause.

See also:

“Judge chastises Trump in defamation trial, lectures lawyers on procedural rules, says ‘this is not a tag-team lawyering’”

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