Last week, a judge ordered Donald Trump and his lawyers to pay $937,989.39 for filing a frivolous lawsuit. That sanction seems to have left a mark. Since then, Trump has pulled out of not one but two lawsuits against New York Attorney General Letitia James—exactly the kind of frivolous lawsuits he and his lawyers now have reason to think might cost them a lot of money.
James is pursuing a $250 million civil lawsuit against Trump, his adult children, and his business for fraud. If she’s successful, Trump and his children would also be barred from being officers in any New York corporation. The Trump Organization has already been fined $1.6 million in a related criminal case. And Trump really thought, despite a series of rejections and setbacks, that he was going to use the courts to get the attorney general of New York to stop suing him for fraudulent business practices.
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In imposing the sanction on Trump, attorney Alina Habba, and Habba’s law firm for a lawsuit targeting dozens of people and organizations for alleging or reporting on collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks described that lawsuit as one that “should never have been brought. Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.”
As part of his basis for including Donald Trump himself, rather than just his lawyers, in the payment, Middlebrooks reeled off a list of legal actions showing Trump’s own “pattern of misusing the courts to serve political purposes.” That list included one of Trump’s lawsuits against James—which had, after a lot of legal shenanigans on Trump’s part, landed in Middlebrooks’ court in Florida. Trump and his legal team had good reason to fear another big sanction from a very irritated Middlebrooks.
In fact, Middlebrooks issued something like a direct threat of more sanctions to come, writing that “I found that Plaintiff’s attempt to sidestep rulings by the New York courts by suing AG James individually rather than in her official capacity was plainly frivolous.” He added that “there was no likelihood of success on the merits, no irreparable harm, and to ‘impede a civil Enforcement Action by the New York Attorney General would be unprecedented and contrary to the interests of the people of New York.’” If that wasn’t direct enough, he concluded his discussion of that case with a reminder that, in his denial of a temporary injunction, he had “urged Mr. Trump and his lawyers to reconsider their opposition to AG James’s Motion to Dismiss because ‘[t]his litigation has all the telltale signs of being both vexatious and frivolous.’”
Showing a rare ability to hear what he’s being told, Trump abandoned that suit against James immediately following Middlebrooks’ order. But it took him several more days to drop his other suit against James, this one in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Perhaps it took his lawyers longer to talk him into dropping the suit pending before a court that hadn’t already ordered him to pay a large amount of money for abusing its patience.
“I am pleased that Donald Trump has withdrawn both of his pending actions against my office,” James said in a statement. “As we have shown all along, we have a legitimate legal case against him and his organization, and we cannot be bullied or dissuaded from pursuing it.”
Judge Arthur Engoron has set an October 2023 trial date in that lawsuit.
Trump Organization fined $1.6 million for tax fraud
Trump executive's sentence highlights the two systems of justice in the United States