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Donald Trump’s lawyer appeals nearly $1 Million sanctions order against self and client

Donald Trump and Alina Habba

On the left, ex-President Donald Trump speaks during a Save America rally on Oct. 1, 2022 in Warren, Michigan. The photo from the right is from his lawyer Alina Habba’s firm. (Photo by Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

One of former President Donald Trump’s top attorneys kicked off the process to appeal a nearly $1 million sanctions order against herself and the ex-president over a pattern of “frivolous” and “vexatious” litigation.

In a scathing order from late last month, U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks levied the $937,989.39 penalty against both Trump and Alina Habba in connection with their lawsuit accusing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and dozens of others of a massive racketeering (RICO) scheme to smear him through associations with Russia.

“This lawsuit should have never been brought,” Middlebrooks wrote at the start of his Jan. 19, 2023, ruling.

The 46-page order cited Trump’s “continuing pattern of misuse of the courts,” in a playbook that Middlebrooks said, “undermines the rule of law, portrays judges as partisans, and diverts resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm.”

Sanctions typically punish attorneys who abuse the court system, but Middlebrooks found that Trump’s litigation tactics earned an exception.

“Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries,” Middlebrooks wrote. “He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer. He knew full well the impact of his actions.”

On Monday, Trump, Habba and her law firm all filed a notice of appeal.

They are now represented by the law firm of Jesse Binnall, a 2020 election denialist attorney behind a failed attempt to overturn President Joe Biden’s more than 33,000-vote victory in Nevada.

The sanctions order appeared to land with a decisive impact on Trump’s legal team.

The day after the order, Trump withdrew a separate lawsuit he filed against New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) in Florida. The former president had asked a federal judge in Florida to intrude upon the attorney general’s enforcement action pending in a state court in New York. That case also landed before Middlebrooks, who refused to intervene.

“The Trump Organization has already been found guilty by a New-York jury of several counts of tax fraud,” Middlebrooks noted in that December 2022 order.

Middlebrooks referred to Trump’s lawsuit against James, and other perceived political adversaries, in establishing what he called a pattern of “frivolous” litigation.

“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,” the judge wrote. “I found 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.”

Days later, Trump withdrew an appeal for the dismissal of a separate lawsuit against James, which had been pending before the Second Circuit.

On Tuesday, Habba is expected to appear in court inside the Southern District of New York for a hearing in E. Jean Carroll’s lawsuit accusing Trump of having raped her in the mid-1990s. Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan indicated in a court filing that Habba decided to withdraw from that case, but Habba denied that in an interview with Law&Crime.

Read the filing below:

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."