Trump Lawyers Sanctioned for Frivolous Lawsuit Against Political Opponents

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A federal district court judge in Florida has imposed sancitons on several attorneys who represented Donald Trump in a sprawling lawsuit alleging various Democratic operatives conspired to spread false information about him. The ruling is here and the NYT‘s Charlie Savage reports on the decision here.

From the decision:

Rule 11 sanctions are properly assessed (1) when a party files a pleading that has no reasonable factual basis; (2) when the party files a pleading that is based on a legal theory that has no reasonable chance of success and that cannot be advanced as a reasonable argument to change existing law; or (3) when the party files a pleading in bad faith for an improper purpose. . . . Here, all three are true. . . .

As the opinion notes, Trump’s attorneys had problems with the facts:

The pleadings in this case contained factual allegations that were either knowingly false or made in reckless disregard for the truth. The following examples are indicative. When suing someone it helps to know where they live, as this can have subject matter or personal jurisdiction significance. In this case for instance, Mr. Dolan argued that he engaged in no activities in Florida that made him susceptible to suit here. He filed an affidavit stating under oath that he lived in Virginia. His lawyers advised Mr. Trump’s lawyers of that. Moreover, the summons in this case indicated an Arlington, Virginia address (DE 27) and the return of service indicated he was served there (DE 27-1). Yet the Amended Complaint alleged that Mr. Dolan was a resident of New York. The Trump lawyers’ answer:

[I]t must be noted that Charles Dolan is an incredibly common name, and Plaintiff’s counsel’s traditional search methods identified countless individuals with said name across the country, many of whom reside in New York.

(DE 270 at 10). While alone not of great significance, this response reflects the cavalier attitude towards facts demonstrated throughout the case. . . .

Mr. Trump’s lawyers claim “nearly all” of the allegations against Mr. Dolan were sourced directly from the Indictment brought against Igor Danchenko by special counsel John Durham. (DE 270-2 at 6). But this is simply not so. As was the practice throughout the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff cherry-picked portions which supported his narrative while ignoring those that undermined or contradicted it. Mr. Trump’s lawyers persisted in this misrepresentation after being warned by the sanctions motion, and they doubled down on this falsehood in their response to the motion. . . .

I find that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were warned about the lack of foundation for their factual contentions, turned a blind eye towards information in their possession, and misrepresented the Danchenko Indictment they claim as their primary support. The lawyers failed to conduct a pre-filing inquiry into the allegations against Mr. Dolan and have continued to advance Plaintiff’s false claims based upon nothing but conjecture, speculation, and guesswork. This is precisely the conduct Rule 11 is intended to deter. . . .

Trump’s lawyers also had problems with their legal theories:

Rule 11 sanctions are also warranted when a plaintiff’s legal theories have no reasonable chance of success and cannot be advanced as a reasonable argument to change existing law. Massengale, 267 F.3d at 1301. Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is 193 pages in length, with 819 numbered paragraphs, 14 counts, and it names 31 defendants including Charles Dolan. As I stated in my Order entered September 8, 2022 (DE 267), none of these counts stated a claim upon which relief could be granted. Additionally, several of the defendants were not subject to personal jurisdiction, and there was not subject matter jurisdiction over the Federal Defendants. The Amended Complaint was, in its entirety, frivolous. Multiple substantive defects precluded Plaintiff from proceeding on any of the theories he advanced. . . .

And, the judge concluded, all this (and more) was reason to conclude the filings were made with an improper purpose

Not just initiated by a shotgun pleading, this was a shotgun lawsuit. 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.

Plaintiff deliberately misrepresented public documents by selectively using some portions while omitting other information including findings and conclusions that contradicted his narrative. This occurred with the Danchenko Indictment, the Department of Justice Inspector General’s Report for Operation Hurricane, and the Mueller Report. It was too frequent to be accidental.

Every claim was frivolous, most barred by settled, well-established existing law. These were political grievances masquerading as legal claims. This cannot be attributed to incompetent lawyering. It was a deliberate use of the judicial system to pursue a political agenda.

The judge ordered the attorneys to pay $50,000 in sanctions and an addition $16,000 to cover one of the defendant’s legal fees. At least one of the attorneys told the NYT she plans to appeal. Additional sanctions motions filed by other defendants from Trump’s suit remain pending.

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