Trials & Litigation

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

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In this courtroom sketch, former President Donald Trump, seated left, with his defense attorney Alina Habba, is admonished by Judge Lewis Kaplan on Jan. 17 in New York. (Sketch by Elizabeth Williams via the Associated Press)

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, who is overseeing a new defamation damages trial against former President Donald Trump, has no patience for missteps and misbehavior.

Just ask Steven Donziger, a disbarred human rights lawyer found guilty of criminal contempt after Kaplan appointed a prosecutor to pursue allegations that Donziger failed to comply with discovery orders. Kaplan appointed the prosecutor after the U.S. attorney’s office rejected his referral.

In the new case, Kaplan told Trump that he was not allowed to loudly mutter denigrating comments about defamation plaintiff E. Jean Carroll’s case, report the Washington Post and CNN.

While defendants have a right to attend the trial, the right can be forfeited if Trump is disruptive, Kaplan said.

“Mr. Trump, I hope I don’t have to consider excluding you from the trial,” Kaplan said.

Trump protested by throwing up his hands and saying, “I would love it! I would love it.”

Kaplan responded by telling Trump: “You just can’t control yourself in these circumstances apparently.”

Jurors are considering damages in the lawsuit by Carroll, who obtained an earlier verdict and $5 million in damages against Trump for sexually abusing—but not raping—her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in New York City in the 1990s and then denying the incident in October 2022.

The new trial claims that Carroll was defamed in denials by Trump before October 2022 and after the May 2023 verdict.

Kaplan also chastised lawyers in the case—on more than one occasion. CNN, Salon and the Washington Post have these examples:

  • Kaplan reined in Trump lawyers when several lawyers objected all at once. “Let’s just get this clear for both sides right now,” Kaplan said. “The first lawyer who says anything when a witness is on the stand says everything there is to be said for that side. This is not a tag-team lawyering.” (The Washington Post)

  • When Trump lawyer Alina Habba cross-examined Carroll using a 2022 deposition, Kaplan said he needed a copy and wanted to know what portion that Habba would be reading. “Now look, Ms. Habba,” Kaplan said. “We’re going to do it my way in this courtroom, and that’s all there is to it.” (CNN)

  • Kaplan called a recess after Habba read harassing social media posts about Carroll before entering them into evidence. “You should refresh your memory about how it is you get a document into evidence,” Kaplan said. (CNN)

  • When Habba asked Kaplan again to postpone the trial to allow Trump to attend his mother-in-law’s funeral, Kaplan said he would “hear no further argument on it. None. Do you understand that word? None. Please sit down.” (CNN)

  • Kaplan criticized a lawyer for Carroll for seeking exhibits in advance to consider potential redactions. “When the document is authenticated and offered, that’s when you say objection, and that’s when we deal with it,” Kaplan said. (CNN)

  • Habba asked Carroll whether she “makes a good amount of money” from her Substack posts. Kaplan stopped her, asking, “What’s ‘a good amount of money?’ Evidence 101.” (Politico reporter Erica Orden on X, formerly known as Twitter, via Salon)

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