Trump’s RICO LOLsuit alleging a vast leftwing conspiracy between Hillary Clinton, her BFF James Comey, Trump’s own Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, and half of DC is long over. US District Judge Donald Middlebrooks vaporized it in a cloud of disdain.
“At its core, the problem with Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is that Plaintiff is not attempting to seek redress for any legal harm,” he wrote. “Instead, he is seeking to flaunt a two-hundred-page political manifesto outlining his grievances against those that have opposed him, and this Court is not the appropriate forum.”
“I reserve jurisdiction to adjudicate issues pertaining to sanctions,” he concluded, ominously.
And indeed, the dozens of defendants named in this turkey of a lawsuit have taken him to heart. Only one of the parties, Charles Halliday Dolan, allegedly a source for the Steele Dossier, made a timely notice of intent to seek Rule 11 sanctions, and last week the court assessed $50K in fines against the lawyers involved, and ordered them to pay fees and costs totaling $16,274.23 to Dolan himself. It also issued a brutal condemnation of the conduct of the plaintiff’s counsel, which clearly informed the subsequent motion for sanctions under 28 US Code § 1927 filed by most of the remaining non-government defendants.
Under the statute, an attorney who “multiplies the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously may be required by the court to satisfy personally the excess costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees reasonably incurred because of such conduct.” Here, Trump’s lawyers Alina Habba and Peter Ticktin filed a patently ridiculous complaint alleging that the Clinton campaign conspired with the FBI to gin up a fake investigation against his campaign’s contacts with Russians seeking to interfere in the 2016 election. The predicate act for the RICO claim was supposedly the “theft” of publicly available DNS lookup data, which Trump’s lawyers blithely characterized as a trade secret.
Approximately two dozen defendants filed motions to dismiss the original complaint, pointing out its many structural flaws, including the fact that the statute of limitations had long since tolled, and anyway none of the parties was subject to personal jurisdiction in Florida. After which Trump’s lawyers filed an Amended complaint, adding what the court described as “eighty new pages of largely irrelevant allegations that did nothing to salvage the legal sufficiency of his claims.”
The failure to address any of the many defects in the original complaint forms the basis of the request for sanctions.
“Plaintiff’s counsel engaged in unreasonable and vexatious conduct first by filing, and then by amending, a factually and legally defective suit,” they argue, adding later that “A reasonable attorney would never have filed this suit, let alone continued to prosecute it after multiple Defendants’ motions to dismiss highlighted its fundamental and incurable defects.”
They further point to the pleading’s multiple “misleading citations of fact” in support of a claim that Trump’s lawyers acted in bad faith. For instance, the complaint faults Hillary Clinton and her alleged co-conspirators for Trump getting kicked off of Twitter in 2021 the day after he dispatched a violent mob to attack the US Capitol.
And the defendants point to multiple television appearances by Habba, who confirmed that the lawsuit was merely “a political manifesto outlining his grievances against those that have opposed him,” as the court put it, not an actual attempt to recover damages.
In the order granting sanctions to Dolan, Judge Middlebrooks noted that Habba had gone on Sean Hannity’s show both to trash him personally as “a Clinton judge,” but also claimed to have filed the case against the advice of her client. In the instant motion, the defendants flag two more appearances which Habba actually posted on her firm’s website.
“What the real goal [of the suit] is, is democracy. Is continuing to make sure that our elections, continuing to make sure our justice system is not obstructed by political enemies. That cannot happen,” she said on Newsmax in March.
Which is … not a great look. But Habba has an answer for that, and it is NUH UH, NO WAY.
To the extent these statements are relevant to the instant application at all, they simply demonstrate that Ms. Habba is a zealous advocate for her client, that she staunchly believes in the viability of the underlying claims, and that she has extensively familiarity with the relevant evidence. The statements made by Ms. Habba are indicative of an attorney prosecuting an action, in good faith, and nothing more.
She wasn’t filing a lawsuit with the statute of limitations long since tolled because … uh, maybe the court would like to equitably toll the statute?
“Plaintiff’s position that he should be granted an equitable tolling of the statute of limitations for the duration of his presidency—which the Defendant acknowledge is a ‘novel’ one—is a compelling argument for the extension of existing law,” she soldiered on gamely.
As for claims that they misrepresented both facts and law, Habba and Ticktin were unapologetic. Maybe they’d have found something in discovery to prove those stringboard conspiracy theories belched up from 8chan were actually true!
Plaintiff’s Counsel pursued every avenue of research which was available to them to verify the facts as understood and legitimately believed by them. Further, it was understood that with the progression of the lawsuit, discovery would have supported the claims against the Defendants which were alleged in the Complaint.
And how can she have multiplied proceedings when the court granted an extension of time to amend the complaint? HENGH???
The allegedly vexatious conduct cited by the Defendants, amending the Complaint, was expressly authorized by the Court. (See DE 111) (Judge Middlebrooks stating that Plaintiff’s request to amend the Complaint, corresponding extension, was granted with leave of court pursuant to FRCP 15(a)(2)). The Defendants also consented to this request and failed to raise any concern that they viewed a proposed amendment as being ‘vexatious’ in nature or futile in any way.
Let’s take a wild shot in the dark that Judge Middlebrooks is not going to be impressed with any of these arguments. This has the potential to get very, very bad for Habba and Ticktin. The defendants have included a 300-page breakdown of the fees paid to their counsel. They’re asking for the plaintiff and his lawyers to cover costs for responding to the amended complaint, as well as those associated with filing the sanctions motion itself. And even if the court only grants a fee award for the sanctions motion, it will add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars of attorney time across over a dozen defendants. And that doesn’t count time spent responding to the appeal which will be filed at the Eleventh Circuit any day now.
Trump v. Clinton [Docket via Court Listener]
Liz Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.