HomeUSATrump lawyers sanctioned over RICO lawsuit against Clinton, DNC

Trump lawyers sanctioned over RICO lawsuit against Clinton, DNC

Former president Donald Trump

Erin Scott | Reuters

A federal judge sanctioned attorneys for former President Donald Trump on Thursday as penalty for advancing a “frivolous” lawsuit against a raft of Trump’s political enemies, including Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.

Judge Donald Middlebrooks’ scathing order in Florida federal court suggested Trump’s lawyers had undermined the rule of law by pushing a political narrative in court “without factual basis or any cognizable legal theory.”

“Additional sanctions may be appropriate,” the judge noted, after suggesting the lawyers’ behavior may require the “attention of the Bar and disciplinary authorities.”

The sanctions — which require Trump’s lawyers to pay $50,000 and compensate a defense attorney’s legal fees — came two months after Middlebrooks had tossed out the suit, describing it as a “two-hundred-page political manifesto.”

The former president’s civil action, filed in March, sketched a sprawling conspiracy by dozens of defendants to spread a false narrative of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

Trump sought tens of millions of dollars in damages, alleging violations of the RICO Act, a federal law that aims to combat organized crime, among other claims.

“This was a shotgun lawsuit,” Middlebrooks wrote in Thursday’s order in U.S. District Court in southern Florida. “Thirty-one individuals and organizations were summoned to court, forced to hire lawyers to defend against frivolous claims. The only common thread against them was Mr. Trump’s animus.”

The judge found that four of Trump’s attorneys — Alina Habba, Michael Madaio, Peter Ticktin and Jamie Alan Sasson — should be sanctioned under Rule 11 of the federal rules of civil procedure, which is aimed at deterring litigants from filing frivolous lawsuits.

They are ordered to “jointly and severally” pay $50,000 in sanctions, as well as legal fees totaling $16,274 that were racked up by defendant Charles Dolan, who filed the sanctions request.

The attorneys for Trump did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.

“The failings of the original Complaint were basic and obvious,” Middlebrooks’ order read. He noted that “when those failings were identified” in motions to dismiss the case, Trump’s attorneys merely “added arguments in an attempt to skirt the RICO statute of limitations” and tacked on two more defendants.

“The choice of defendants, combined with the lack of any viable legal theories of liability, reflect an intention to injure rather than to redress legal harm,” Middlebrooks wrote.

Even after the judge pointed out the “deficiencies” of the legal complaint, he wrote, Habba went on Fox News’ “Hannity” and “continued to advance Plaintiff’s claims.”

The judge included an excerpt of Habba’s from that Sept. 10 interview, when she slammed Middlebrooks as a “Clinton judge” who “basically ignored every factual basis” for the lawsuit.

“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,” Middlebrooks wrote.

“Lawyers are enabling this behavior and I am pessimistic that Rule 11 alone can effectively stem this abuse. Aspects may be beyond the purview of the judiciary, requiring attention of the Bar and disciplinary authorities. Additional sanctions may be appropriate,” the judge wrote. “But legal filings like those at issue here should be sanctioned under Rule 11, both to penalize this conduct and deter similar conduct by these lawyers and others.”



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