Trump lawyer Alina Habba on Monday claimed that the judge who oversaw the former president’s defamation trial has a conflict of interest and argued that it may warrant overturning writer E. Jean Carroll’s $83.3 million jury award.
Habba in a letter to the federal court in Manhattan cited a Jan. 27 New York Post article citing U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan’s alleged prior working relationship with Carroll attorney Roberta Kaplan, who is not related.
Both worked for two years in the 1990s for the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison before Judge Kaplan was appointed to the federal bench in 1994, according to Reuters.
The New York Post article quoted an unnamed former partner at the law firm who discussed Roberta Kaplan and said Judge Kaplan had been “like her mentor.”
“If Your Honor truly worked with Ms. Kaplan in any capacity — especially if there was a mentor/mentee relationship — that fact should have been disclosed before any case involving these parties was permitted to proceed forward,” Habba wrote to the judge.
“This issue is particularly concerning since Plaintiff’s other lead counsel, Shawn Crowley, served as Your Honor’s law clerk, and we were previously advised that Your Honor co-officiated her wedding,” she added.
Habba requested more information about the judge’s former working relationship with Kaplan.
“Here, without knowing more information (or having a specific factual denial by Your Honor that you had a mentor-mentee relationship with Ms. Kaplan), we are unable to flesh out our position concerning what specific relief should be requested,” Habba wrote.
“Surely, however, this Court should provide defense counsel with all of the relevant facts. At a minimum, this information could certainly prove relevant to President Trump’s forthcoming Rule 59 motion,” she added, referring to Trump’s expected request for a new trial.
Former New York and federal prosecutor Daniel Alonso called Habba’s filing “nonsense.”
“A lawyer would have to be an idiot not to know that the judge and Ms. Kaplan were at the same firm,” he tweeted.
“If you didn’t object when you found out that the other attorney was the judge’s former law clerk, you waived the issue,” tweeted Atlanta defense attorney Andrew Fleischman. “No competent lawyer believes that Habba’s recusal motion has a shot of success,” he added.
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CNN legal analyst Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor, said this is a “bogus motion by the Trump team.”
“There’s nothing there,” he said. “Every judge in that courthouse knows, socializes with, has worked with, sometimes maybe mentored, dozens, hundreds of attorneys in this city. I used to practice in that courthouse in front of judges who used to be my colleagues, my supervisors. If anything, they were tougher on me as a result of it. That is not enough for a conflict of interest.”
Honig also called out another part of Habba’s argument.
“It’s self-defeating because Trump’s team cites this rule of ethics that says, ‘Well, it could be a conflict of interest if the judge worked with the attorney on this matter or while the attorney was working on this matter.’ The relationship they’re talking about was a law firm, professional relationship that goes back 30 years. Judge Kaplan’s been on the bench for 30 years,” he said. “They have their appeal issues. This ain’t one of them.”