It would appear that Donald Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba is out of E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case against the former president … sort of. As with every other procedural aspect of this case, it’s substantially factual, and seems all but guaranteed to piss off Judge Lewis Kaplan. And he was already pretty pissed!
To recap: In 2019, advice columnist E. Jean Carroll alleged that Trump raped her in a New York department store decades earlier. Trump immediately branded Carroll a liar and implied she was too ugly to rape — an allegation slightly undercut when he examined a picture of Carroll close to the time of the alleged assault and mistook her for his former wife, Marla Maples. Carroll sued that year, and the government sought to substitute itself as the defendant. that case, Carroll Iis currently on hold pending a determination by the DC Court of Appeals as to whether Trump was acting within the scope of his official duties when he slagged Carroll.
In 2022, Trump repeated those same allegations, once again undercutting his position by proving that he was only fulfilling his presidential obligation to talk smack about sexual assault victims three years earlier. And on Thanksgiving, New York passed the Adult Survivors Act, granting victims whose claims would otherwise be time barred a chance to file civil suits against their assailants. Carroll then filed a second suit, Carroll IIwith claims under the ASA plus another defamation count.
Yesterday, attorneys Joseph Tacopina, Matthew DeOreo, and Chad Seigel entered their appearances in Carroll IIbut not Carroll I, although the cases are likely to be joined if the DC Court of Appeals rules in Carroll’s favour. In correspondence which appeared briefly on the docket — don’t worry, your ATL snagged it before it got yanked — we got a window into the tussle between the parties.
By practice, Judge Kaplan does not docket letter correspondence. So Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan (no relation) did not put the ish came out to the public when she got a call from Habba saying that she was going to be replaced by Tacopina and requesting that Carroll’s deposition scheduled for the following day be postponed. Attorney Kaplan responded with a HELL NO, noting that Trump has tried everything from ducking the process server to claim that New York courts have no jurisdiction over him as a Florida resident to drag this thing out for more than three years already.
She also sent a letter to the judge’s chambers noting that “we are concerned that the Defendant may seek to use this late-stage substitution of counsel as yet another tactic to attempt to delay the proceedings” and reminded the court of its previous finding that “The Defendant’s litigation tactics ‘strongly suggest that he is acting out of a strong desire to delay any opportunity the plaintiff may have to present her case against him.’”
Habba respondents on the public docket, protesting that “the transition of counsel is not in any way intended to delay or hinder” the case, but hinting obliquely at “several scheduling-related issues that have arisen recently that we would like to raise and seek appropriate intervention by this Court.”
She also insisted that “it is Plaintiff who seeks to ‘leverage’ the shift in counsel to her advantage,” and attached a copy of Kaplan’s letter to her own public filing.
As of this morning, all of that correspondence has disappeared, consistent with Judge Kaplan’s regular practice. But it sure looks like Habba, who just argued this case before the DC Court of Appeals, is going to be replaced at trial by Tacopina et al. We can certainly speculate that the $1 million in sanctions she and her client just got slapped with by a federal judge in Florida might have something to do with this. She also seems to have wandered into a second sanctions request in a month by the New York Attorney General in the state civil prosecution. Oops!
On the one hand, Joseph Tacopina makes perfect sense as counsel for Trump. He’s an experienced, hard-charging lawyer who has represented plenty of high profile clients, including rapper Meek Mill, baseball player Alex Rodriguez, and Donald Trump Jr.’s fiancée Kimberly Guilfoyle in her dealings with the January 6 Committee. And Tacopina was willing to throw elbows from the jump, threatening to sue former prosecutor Mark Pomerantz for “defamatory” statements about Trump in his upcoming book.
But Tacopina has made some public statements about Trump which are not particularly flattering. As Politico points out, he recently represented January 6 rioter Julian Khater, arguing in a sentencing memo that his client was provoked to a “feverish pitch” after “A climate of mass hysteria, fueled by the dissemination of misinformation about the 2020 election, originating at the highest level, gave rise to a visceral powder keg waiting to ignite.”
And more to the point, he made public comments about Carroll I to CNBC in 2020, mocking Trump’s claim that talking smack about his accuser was part of his official duties and decrying then Attorney General Bill Barr’s effort to substitute the government as defendant and remove the case to federal court.
“The DOJ was not meant to serve as the president’s personal in-house counsel, particularly on the taxpayer’s dime,” scoffed Tacopina, adding that “Trump calling an alleged victim of rape … a liar is not an act in his official capacity.”
“Although ad hominem attacks on members of the regular public may be a regular occurrence in the Oval Office these days, Article II of the Constitution does not include within the functions of the presidency the role of Chief Mudslinger,” he continued.
So… that’s weird. But it’s a safe bet that Roberta Kaplan is going to remind the jury about that “ad hominem attack” line early and often.
Carroll v. Trump I [Docket via Court Listener]
Carroll v. TrumpII [Docket via Court Listener]
Liz Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.