West Palm-based fed judge orders Trump, his lawyers to pay nearly $1M in 'frivolous' lawsuit against Hillary Clinton
A federal judge in Florida on Thursday ordered former President Donald Trump and his attorneys to pay nearly $1 million in sanctions for a lawsuit Trump filed against Hillary Clinton and many others over claims the 2016 presidential election was rigged.
Under the 46-page order, U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks, who is based out of West Palm Beach, said Trump and his lead attorney in the case, Alina Habba, are individually and jointly liable for $937,989.39 in legal sanctions, covering the defendants’ attorneys’ fees and costs.
“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 in his order Thursday. “Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.”
The lawsuit had named as defendants Clinton and some of her top advisers, as well as former FBI Director James Comey and other FBI officials involved in the investigation into whether Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign had coordinated with Russia to sway the outcome of the election.
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The lawsuit was previously tossed out by Middlebrooks in September, who called the suit a "political manifesto." On Thursday, Middlebrooks called Trump’s lawsuit “completely frivolous.”
“Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries,” Middlebrooks wrote. “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.”
Middlebrooks wrote that claims by Trump and Habba were implausible, specifically noting that Trump's claim that Comey and Clinton conspired together to seek his prosecution "not only lacks substance but is categorically absurd."
He said then the suit contained “glaring structural deficiencies” and that many of the “characterizations of events are implausible.”
The suit was filed by Boca Raton attorney Peter Ticktin, who went to military school with Trump and considers him a friend. While the 76-year-old attorney didn’t respond to an email for comment, after the lawsuit was filed in March he said Trump told him he “was happy with the job we did.”
Trump attorney filed suit in Ft. Pierce, where judge Aileen Cannon is based
Ticktin fought to keep Middlebrooks off the case. He took the unusual step of filing the suit in Fort Pierce, the northernmost outpost of the sprawling district that includes Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
Trump appointee U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon is the only judge based in Fort Pierce. Instead, the case was assigned to Middlebrooks.
Over the objections of federal prosecutors, Cannon in September approved Trump’s request and ordered that a special master be appointed to review thousands of documents, including hundreds labeled top secret, that were seized during a search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s home and private club in Palm Beach.
When Trump’s Russian collusion case was assigned to Middlebrooks instead of Cannon, Ticktin asked Middlebrooks to step down because he was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton.
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Middlebrooks refused, saying he had never met Bill or Hillary Clinton. He noted that his 1997 confirmation was unanimous, which showed he had broad bipartisan support. Further, he said, courts have repeatedly ruled that judges shouldn’t recuse themselves simply because a lawsuit involves a president who appointed them.
He noted that Trump hadn’t raised similar claims of bias when lawsuits he filed were assigned to judges he appointed. He also said he noticed that the suit had originally been filed in Fort Pierce.
“When I became a federal judge, I took an oath to ‘faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all duties . . . under the Constitution and laws of the United States,’ ” he wrote. “I have done so for the last twenty-five years, and this case will be no different.”
Contributing: Jane Musgrave, Palm Beach Post; Ella Lee, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump and lawyers ordered to pay nearly $1M for Clinton lawsuit