Left: Former advice columnist E. Jean Carroll arrives to federal court in New York, Wednesday, April 26, 2023 (AP Photo/Seth Wenig). Right: Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks at the South Texas International Airport, Nov. 19, 2023, in Edinburg, Texas (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File). Inset: Donald Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, speaks to the media outside the New York City courthouse on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in a lawsuit accusing him of fraudulently inflating his net worth in financial statements to lenders and others (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey).
Lawyers for Donald Trump’s sexual abuse victim E. Jean Carroll have accused the former president’s legal team of disrespecting standard courtroom practice by requesting in front of a jury that the judge declare a mistrial in the defamation case stemming from Trump’s statements about her.
In a letter to U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan on Sunday, Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan accused Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba of making a “spectacle” in court by demanding Judge Kaplan declare a mistrial over Carroll’s testimony that she had deleted death threats that came her way after she went public with her sexual assault allegation against the ex-president. As Law&Crime previously reported, a civil jury found in May that Trump had sexually abused Carroll in a dressing room of the Bergdorf Goodman department store in the 1990s and later defamed her when denying the allegations.
The current trial before Judge Kaplan, a Bill Clinton appointee, is to determine the amount of defamation damages Trump owes to Carroll.
According to attorney Kaplan’s letter, Habba conducted a line of “muddled and shouted questions” on Jan. 17, which resulted in Carroll’s “muddled testimony.” Roberta Kaplan described an exchange between Carroll and Habba in which it was clear that Carrol was confused by what Habba — who demanded Carroll tell her not only when she “stopped deleting the death threats” but also “mistakenly referenced” a subpoena — was asking.
“At the risk of stating the obvious, this line of questioning and testimony was not a model of clarity,” Roberta Kaplan’s letter says.
Habba, according to Roberta Kaplan, pressed on regardless.
“In a flagrant departure from appropriate courtroom decorum, defense counsel has already requested a mistrial declaration in the presence of the jury,” the letter says.
The letter notes that Judge Kaplan responded by saying: ‘Denied. The jury will disregard everything Ms. Habba just said.’”
Attorney Kaplan says in the letter Trump argued that Carroll shouldn’t be allowed to recover damages for the death threats she received on and after June 21, 2019, after going public with her accusation. Trump, the letter says, suggested that some of the threats against Carroll may have reached her in the “gap” of time between when the piece was published and when Trump first posted the defamatory statements.
“This argument is meritless,” lawyer Kaplan’s letter says. “Ms. Carroll testified that she did not receive death threats before June 2019; that she first saw them in her inbox the night of June 21, 2019, around 11:30pm; and that she has been receiving them “often” over the past several years. In addition, and contrary to the claims made on page five of Mr. Trump’s letter, Ms. Carroll testified about specific threats that she has received subsequent to June 21, 2019. Finally, Ms. Carroll testified to her understanding that Mr. Trump’s June 21 and June 22 statements contained clear threats that she should “pay dearly” and had entered “dangerous territory.”
A footnote says that Habba “mischaracterizes Ms. Carroll’s testimony on this point.”
“Specifically, they pick a single sentence out of context (‘I just delete, delete, delete’) and assert that Ms. Carroll was referring to the death threats she received (and deleted) on June 21, 2019,” the footnote says. “When read in context, however, it is clear that Ms. Carroll was referring to ‘replies on Twitter and Facebook,’ not the death threats she received by email in June 2019.”
Habba also accused Carroll of destroying evidence — a claim Carroll’s lawyer rejects.
“Mr. Trump focuses on Ms. Carroll’s deletion of certain messages that she recalls receiving the night of June 21, 2019. But Ms. Carroll had no legal obligation to preserve her documents or communications at that time. As she testified, Ms. Carroll had no initial plan to file a lawsuit. She had not consulted with counsel or given any thought at that point to filing an action. Where a person does not reasonably anticipate litigation, there is no duty to preserve — and so Mr. Trump cannot show that the deletion of threatening messages in the days following his defamatory statements occurred in contravention of any legal obligation.
The letter also notes that Trump was able to seek any motions to pursue the matter of the deleted items sooner, but didn’t.
“[H]e chose not to do so,” the letter says. “Therefore, equity does not support affording him a remedy now that he has raised the issue in the middle of trial and professed surprise in the presence of the jury. If anything, Mr. Trump has forfeited this issue.”
The letter comes one day after Roberta Kaplan advised Judge Kaplan of concerns that Trump “would use his testimony in this case to turn the trial into a campaign event, violating court orders about the scope of this trial or admissible evidence in service of a political agenda.”
“Our concern in that regard has only increased since trial began,” the Jan. 19 letter says. “Defendant has made repeated comments about trial evidence within earshot of the jury; he has sought to develop the public narrative that the Court is not ‘allowing [Defendant] to properly defend [himself] from false accusations’; and he has stated on the record that he ‘would love‘ if Your Honor excluded him from the trial for disregarding court orders or engaging is disruptive behavior.”
Trump, the letter says, has argued that he is allowed to testify at trial about the Access Hollywood tape and alleged sexual assaults of two other women, Natasha Stoynoff and Jessica Leeds. In her letter, Roberta Kaplan appears to want to stop that testimony before it starts.
“In order to keep the issues at this trial focused, we have decided not to offer the designated portions of Defendant’s deposition that relate to the Access Hollywood tape and will not request that Natasha Stoynoff and Jessica Leeds be permitted to testify as part of Plaintiff’s case-in-chief,” attorney Kaplan writes.
On Monday, Judge Kaplan denied a mistrial request Habba made in a Friday letter to the judge.
“The defense made a motion for a mistrial, again,” he said, according to ABC News. “That motion is denied.”
After that, the judge adjourned the trial for the day, according to ABC News. Although Habba asked Judge Kaplan to delay Trump’s testimony until Wednesday due to Tuesday’s primary election in New Hampshire — a request on which the judge did not immediately rule — it appears that the judge ultimately decided to postpone trial over COVID-19 concerns: Either one or both of Habba’s parents have COVID-19 and she was recently exposed. She reportedly told the judge that she wasn’t feeling well, although a COVID-19 test was returned as negative.
“We will not take testimony today,” Kaplan said, according to ABC News.
“See you tomorrow, I hope,” he reportedly added.
Read the Jan. 21 from Carroll’s lawyer here.
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