Trump lawyers sanctioned over RICO suit against Clinton, DNC

Trump lawyers sanctioned over RICO suit against Clinton, DNC

Former President Donald Trump

Erin Scott | Reuters

A federal judge has sanctioned the former president’s lawyers Donald Trump on Thursday as punishment for launching a “frivolous” lawsuit against a raft of Trump’s political enemies, including Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.

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

“Additional sanctions may be appropriate,” the judge noted, after suggesting that the lawyer’s conduct might require “the attention of the bar and disciplinary authorities.”

The sanctions — which require Trump’s lawyers to pay $50,000 and reimburse defense attorneys’ fees — come two months after Middlebrooks threw away the suitdescribing it as a “two hundred page political manifesto”.

The former president’s civil lawsuit, filed in March, outlines a widespread conspiracy by dozens of defendants to spread a false story about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

Trump sought tens of millions of dollars in damages, alleging, among other things, violations of the RICO Act, a federal law aimed at fighting organized crime.

“This was a gun lawsuit,” Middlebrooks wrote in an order filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in South Florida. “Thirty-one individuals and organizations were subpoenaed, 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 lawyers – 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 intended to deter litigants from filing frivolous lawsuits.

They were ordered to “jointly” pay $50,000 in sanctions as well as court costs totaling $16,274 collected by defendant Charles Dolan, who filed the sanctions motion.

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

“The defects in the original complaint were fundamental and obvious,” Middlebrooks’ order read. He noted that “once those failures were identified” in motions to dismiss the case, Trump’s lawyers merely “added arguments in an attempt to circumvent RICO’s statute of limitations” and pounced on two other defendants.

“The choice of defendants, combined with the lack of any viable legal theory of liability, reflects an intent to injure rather than to recover legal damages,” Middlebrooks wrote.

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

The judge included Habbina’s excerpt from that Sept. 10 interview, when she criticized Middlebrooks as a “Clinton judge” who “basically ignored any 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 the political narrative through lawsuits without factual basis or any recognizable legal theory.” wrote Middlebrooks.

“Lawyers enable this behavior and I am pessimistic that Rule 11 alone can effectively stop this abuse. Aspects may be beyond the purview of the judiciary and require the attention of the bar and disciplinary authorities. Additional sanctions may be appropriate,” the judge wrote. “But legal filings like the ones at issue here should be sanctioned under Rule 11, to punish this behavior and deter similar behavior by these lawyers and others.”

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