Donald Trump loses again after a District Court judge ordered sanctions against the attorneys representing the ex-President, ruling in favor of Charles Dolan, one of twenty-nine defendants named in Trump’s frivolous lawsuit against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In March, Trump sued Dolan for RICO conspiracy (Count II), conspiracy to commit injurious falsehood (Count IV), and conspiracy to commit malicious prosecution (Count VI), and falsely accusing him of colluding with the 2016 popular vote winner to “smear” the then presidential candidate.
Trump’s complaint alleged Dolan was a former head of the Democratic National Committee and a key official on Clinton’s 2016 campaign – none of which is true.
"Lawyers are enabling this behavior and I am pessimistic that Rule 11 alone can effectively stem this abuse. Aspects may be beyond the purview of the judiciary, requiring attention of the Bar and disciplinary authorities."
Full order here. https://t.co/2RNVHk5jWB
— Adam Klasfeld (@KlasfeldReports) November 10, 2022
Attorneys on Dolan’s behalf sent a warning letter to Trump’s legal team clarifying the false allegations and putting them on notice to remove the defendant from an upcoming amended complaint or sanctions would be sought. His request was callously disregarded.
On July 15, 2022, Mr. Dolan served on Mr. Trump’s lawyers a motion seeking sanctions pursuant to Rule 11. The motion pointed out that the change in Mr. Dolan’s purported title from “former chairman of the DNC” in the original Complaint to “former chairman of a national Democratic political organization,” in the Amended Complaint did not solve the problems identified in the warning letter because Mr. Dolan had never been the chairman of any such organization. The motion further explained that Mr. Dolan’s role in the Clinton Campaign was limited to knocking on doors as a volunteer. The motion also stated that Mr. Dolan had never been a resident of New York, that Mr. Dolan had told Plaintiff’s lawyers so, and that the allegations of the Amended Complaint to that effect demonstrated a lack of diligence over something easily checked.
The defendant’s motion for sanctions went on to place the Trump lawyers on notice of a critical failure in their claims, warning them that the Danchenko Indictment referenced throughout the Amended Complaint not only failed to support their allegations against Mr. Dolan but contradicted them. That warning continues to be unheeded.
Judge Middlebrook determined that Trump acted in bad faith and that the former President’s suit “Contained factual allegations that were either knowingly false or made in reckless disregard for the truth.”
Despite being repeatedly told that Dolan lives in Virginia, Trump’s legal team continued to falsely claim that he lives in the state of New York. When pushed on the issue, the ex-President’s lawyers said that “Charles Dolan is an incredibly common name.”
While alone not of great significance, this response reflects the cavalier attitude towards facts demonstrated throughout the case, Judge Middlebrook wrote.
Trump accused Dolan of conspiring with Ivan Danchenko to spread rumors of “salacious sexual activity,” allegedly committed by the former President at a Ritz Carlton hotel, none of which was substantiated.
Rule 11, which the court based its ruling on, allows sanction when a plaintiff’s legal theories have little to no chance of success. “The Amended Complaint was, in its entirety, frivolous. Multiple substantive defects precluded Plaintiff from proceeding on any of the theories he advanced,” the judge stated.
Citing 1991’s Pelletier v. Zweifel, Middlebrook rebuked the accusation of a RICO conspiracy by Dolan, saying Trump had “no standing” to bring the claim. Plaintiff’s RICO claim failed at every step of analysis, according to Middlebrook.
In Pelletier, an appeals court reversed the denial of Rule 11 in civil RICO cases.
Analyzing in detail the amended complaint in that case, the Court of Appeals concluded that the plaintiff failed to establish any of the required predicate acts, to show any continuing relationship or pattern of acts, or any injury flowing from those acts. Concluding that each of the counts in the amended complaint were objectively frivolous when filed, the court found it apparent that the case was brought to harass the defendants.
The appellate court found the amended complaint was conclusory, baseless, and without any merit. In deciding that the claim was prosecuted in bad faith, the court rejected the thought that it might have been the “product of incompetent lawyering, and thus excusable, rather than” a tool of harassment, because the plaintiff was skilled in the law and had been warned he was likely to run afoul of Rule 11.
Judge Middlebrook shot down Trump’s claims that Dolan acted in concert with Clinton, former FBI director James Comey, attorney Kevin Clinesmith, and agent Peter Strzok to “maliciously” prosecute the Republican presidential nominee – despite evidence to the contrary. Because Trump was never actually prosecuted, the claim is baseless.
The foregoing is not an exhaustive list of the problems with Plaintiff’s legal theories, but they amply demonstrate how unreasonable and meritless the claims were as they pertained to Mr. Dolan. None of the claims against him—or any other defendant for that matter—had any chance of success, and this weighs strongly in favor of imposing Rule 11 sanctions.
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,” Middlebrook added.
While the former President himself was not sanctioned, his legal team is on the hook. Alina Habba, Michael T. Madaio, Habba Madaio & Associates, Peter Ticktin, Jamie Alan Sasson, and The Ticktin Law Group, have been ordered to jointly pay $50,000 and to reimburse Dolan over $16,000 for fees incurred fighting the baseless suit.
Read the motion here.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick