Former President Donald Trump’s lawyers who accused Hillary Clinton and dozens of other people of engaging in a conspiracy to harm his reputation were sanctioned by a federal judge, who excoriated them for filing a “frivolous”, politically motivated lawsuit.
Alina Habba, one of Trump’s most outspoken attorneys, and other lawyers involved in the case were ordered on Thursday to pay US$50,000 (S$69,000) to the court and US$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.
“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,” wrote US District Judge Donald Middlebrooks in West Palm Beach, Florida.
“Lawyers are enabling this behavior.”
Judge Middlebrooks, a Bill Clinton appointee, dismissed Trump’s suit in September, calling it a “manifesto”. The judge was even harsher in his ruling on Dolan’s motion for sanctions, saying the failings of the lawsuit were “basic and obvious” and that the lawyers’ conduct was “willful, not simply negligent”.
“Thirty-one individuals and organisations were summoned to court, forced to hire lawyers to defend against frivolous claims,” the judge wrote. “The only common thread against them was Trump’s animus.”
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.
Clinton and other defendants are also seeking sanctions against Trump and his lawyers. That group filed a joint motion for fees and costs totaling more than US$1 million. The judge hasn’t ruled yet on that request.
Judge Middlebrooks noted in his ruling Thursday that the many flaws in Trump’s complaint, filed in March under the civil version of a racketeering law normally used against organised crime, were correctly highlighted by Clinton in her motion to dismiss the suit.
But when Habba amended the suit in an effort to address its shortcomings, she merely added irrelevant detail and new defendants, the judge said.
“This cannot be attributed to incompetent lawyering,” Judge Middlebrooks wrote. “It was a deliberate use of the judicial system to pursue a political agenda.”
Trump and Habba have repeatedly attributed rulings against them to a broader effort by allegedly partisan judges to unfairly punish the Republican in court.
Habba previously asked Judge Middlebrooks to recuse himself from the suit because he was appointed by the lead defendant’s husband, a request the judge denied.