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Trump, lawyer hit with $1m sanctions in Clinton case

Trump, lawyer hit with $1m sanctions in Clinton case
Former US president Donald Trump. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Erik S Lesser)

Former US president Donald Trump and one of his top lawyers were ordered by a judge to pay a total of almost $1-million in sanctions to Hillary Clinton, her 2016 campaign and more than a dozen political operatives who he accused of running 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 on 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.”

The ruling is the latest legal setback for Trump, whose lawsuits challenging the result of the 2020 presidential election he lost were rejected by the courts. 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. A suit that Trump filed against James in Florida was also dismissed by Middlebrooks, who said the case “has all the telltale signs of being both vexatious and frivolous”.

Trump, his lead attorney, Alina Habba, and her law firm Habba Madaio & Associates, are jointly liable for $937,989 (R16.19-million), the judge ruled. The sanctions were issued on behalf of 18 defendants who submitted a joint motion accusing Trump and Habba of knowingly filing a lawsuit with bogus and unbelievable claims to dishonestly advance a political narrative.

Middlebrooks, an appointee of former president Bill Clinton, said in his ruling that filing such lawsuits “undermines the rule of law, portrays judges as partisans, and diverts resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm”.

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.

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 judge rejected any notion that Trump’s lawyers were the only ones at fault, saying the former president is a sophisticated client with a long history of going to court.

“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.”

Habba didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment. BM/DM

 

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