The judiciary is not a toy. It is not something politicians are supposed to play with for their amusement. When politicians and their lawyers forget these plain truths, they should pay a price — not just as a penalty, but also in order to discourage others from making the same mistake.
With this in mind, it was satisfying to see this NBC News report overnight.
A federal judge on Thursday sanctioned former President Donald Trump and one of his top attorneys nearly $1 million for filing a sprawling lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and other perceived political enemies “that should never have been filed.” U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks of Southern Florida said in his 46-page order that Trump, lead attorney Alina Habba and Habba Madaio & Associates were jointly liable for $937,989 in the suit, which he dismissed in September.
In case anyone needs a refresher as to how we arrived at this point — keeping track of Team Trump’s legal troubles is admittedly challenging — let’s circle back to our recent coverage of this case.
It was in March 2022 when Trump had the bright idea of suing Clinton and several other Democrats, alleging they tried to rig the 2016 presidential election by bringing attention to his Russia scandal. The case, believe it or not, alleged “racketeering” and a “conspiracy to commit injurious falsehood,” among other things.
By any fair measure, the lawsuit was utterly bonkers, though it had a serious goal: Trump claimed the Russia scandal cost him more than $24 million — and he wanted his legal targets to pay far more than that.
The judge in the case didn’t just reject the underlying claims, Middlebrooks could barely contain his disgust with the inanity of the legal complaint.
“These were political grievances masquerading as legal claims,” Middlebrooks concluded. “This cannot be attributed to incompetent lawyering. It was a deliberate use of the judicial system to pursue a political agenda.” He went on to cite the attorneys’ “cavalier attitude towards facts.”
At the time, the jurist imposed sanctions on the Republican’s attorneys, directing them to pay a $50,000 penalty for advancing a “frivolous” lawsuit. As The New York Times’ report explained, a number of the former president’s targets soon after filed a joint motion, seeking additional sanctions.
Yesterday, the judge agreed.
“This case should never have been brought. Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it,” Middlebrooks wrote, adding that the suit was intended “for a political purpose.”
What’s more, as NBC News’ report noted, the judge took care to explain why Trump, and not just his attorneys, bore responsibility.
“Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries. 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,” Middlebrooks wrote. “As such, I find that sanctions should be imposed upon Mr. Trump and his lead counsel, Ms. Habba.”
Making matters just a bit worse for the former president’s team, the judge also said the actions taken by Trump’s lawyers were so egregious that they might very well lead to attention from “the bar and disciplinary authorities.”
It remains to be seen whether this will deter the Republican and his lawyers from filing other dumb lawsuits — Trump's absurd case against the Pulitzer Prize Board keeps coming to mind — but a $937,989 bill is likely to be memorable.
Update: Trump's lawyers have withdrawn a pending lawsuit against the New York attorney general's office, suggesting these sanctions have, in fact, had an effect.