E. Jean Carroll lawyer says Trump claims of judge conflict no basis to toss $83.3 million verdict

Attorney Roberta Kaplan delivers her closing argument during E. Jean Carroll’s second civil trial as Carroll accused former U.S. President Donald Trump of raping her decades ago, at Manhattan Federal Court in New York City, U.S., January 26, 2024, in this courtroom sketch. 

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

E. Jean Carroll’s lawyer on Tuesday rebutted a claim that she was mentored by the judge who oversaw the rape defamation trial of Donald Trump, and said there is “no basis’ to toss the recent $83.3 million verdict against the former president in Carroll’s favor.

Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, blasted Trump’s attorney Alina Habba for raising “false allegations of a mentor-mentee relationship” between Kaplan and U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan when they both worked at the prestigious and large New York law firm Paul, Weiss three decades ago.

The Kaplans are not related.

Roberta Kaplan, in a letter to the judge, noted that “the length of our overlap at Paul, Weiss was less than two years,” and that she does not remember ever interacting with Judge Kaplan during that time, when she was a junior litigation associate and he was a senior litigation partner.

Roberta Kaplan joined the firm in October 1992 and Lewis Kaplan left Paul, Weiss in August 1994 upon his confirmation as judge.

Roberta Kaplan also told the judge in a letter that she reserved the right to “seek sanctions” against Habba for making “false and vexatious claims.”

Habba replied to the letter later Tuesday, denying she made any false claims, noting that she had merely asked if there was such a mentor relationship with the judge.

Alina Habba, attorney for former President Donald Trump, exits federal court in New York, US, on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023.

Yuki Iwamura | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“Since Ms. Kaplan has now denied that there was ever a mentor-mentee relationship between herself and Your Honor, this issue has seemingly been resolved,” Habba wrote the judge.

But in a footnote to that sentence, Habba added: “There are, however, various other issues relating to the Court’s conduct, including potential bias hostility towards defense counsel, that will be raised in post-trial motions and on appeal.”

Habba first noted the claims in a letter to the judge Monday, three days after a Manhattan federal court jury found that Trump should pay Carroll $83.3 million in damages for defaming her in 2019 when he denied her claim that he raped her in the mid-1990s.

That civil judgment came nearly eight months after another civil trial ended with a jury awarding Carroll $5 million in damages from Trump for defamatory statements he made about her in 2022. As in the second trial, Roberta Kaplan represented Carroll and Judge Kaplan presided over the case.

Habba’s letter suggested that if there was a previously undisclosed conflict or potential conflict between Carroll’s lawyer and the judge, it “could certainly prove relevant to President Trump’s forthcoming Rule 59 motion” to seek a new trial or to radically reduce the massive damages awarded.

The letter said that Habba learned for the first time this weekend, from a New York Post article, allegations that the judge “had a ‘mentor’ type relationship with” Roberta Kaplan.

That article contained a quote, purportedly from a former Paul, Weiss partner, saying “Lew was like her mentor.” The person quoted was unnamed.

“We believe, and will argue on appeal, that the Court was overtly hostile towards defense counsel and President Trump, and displayed preferential treatment towards Plaintiff’s counsel,” Habba wrote.

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“Indeed, the rulings, tone, and demeanor of the bench raised significant concerns even before the New York Post’s investigative journalism unearthed these new facts,” she added.

The letter said that if Judge Kaplan “truly worked with Ms. Kaplan in any capacity — especially if there was a mentor/mentee relationship — that fact should have been disclosed before any case involving these parties was permitted to proceed forward,” Habba wrote.

Roberta Kaplan, in her reply to the judge Tuesday, wrote, “As Ms. Habba well knows, these allegations are utterly baseless.”

Roberta Kaplan, lawyer of former Elle magazine advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, makes closing arguments during a civil trial where Carroll accuses former U.S. president Donald Trump of raping her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s, and of defamation, in New York, May 8, 2023 in this courtroom sketch.

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

“During that relatively brief period more than thirty years ago, I do remember the Paul, Weiss partners with whom I worked and none of them was Your Honor,” Roberta Kaplan wrote.

“More specifically, I have no recollection from that time period of ever interacting with Your Honor on a case, participating with Your Honor in a client or case-related meeting, or attending a court proceeding with Your Honor. In fact, I remember no direct interaction from that time period with Your Honor at all,” the letter from Carroll’s attorney said.

Roberta Kaplan added, “Given the above, there was nothing for Your Honor to disclose.”

The lawyer also noted that the fact that she and the judge had both worked at Paul, Weiss previously was a matter of public record before the trial.

“A jury of Donald Trump’s peers has now twice found him liable for sexual assault, defamation and $88 million in compensatory and punitive damages,” Roberta Kaplan wrote.

“There is no basis to set either verdict aside.”

Trump, who is the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, is appealing the verdict in the first trial, and plans to appeal the verdict of the second trial.

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