Last week, a jury awarded E. Jean Carroll a ridiculous $83.3 million in damages for alleged defamation by Donald Trump after she made dubious allegations that he sexually assaulted her in the 1990s.
Trump’s antics in the courtroom have been widely reported, but so have the judge’s rather bizarre orders that essentially hamstrung Trump and his defense, forbidding him to present exculpatory evidence or defend himself.
There may be a reason why Trump wasn’t given the opportunity to adequately defend himself. It appears that Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who presided over the case, may have a major conflict of interest.
The New York Post has learned that Kaplan was once a “mentor” to Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan. The two aren’t related, but they worked together in the early 1990s at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkin, Wharton & Garrison in Midtown.
In a letter filed on Monday, Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, demanded answers:
If Your Honor 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. This issue is particularly concerning since Plaintiff’s other lead counsel, Shawn Crowley, served as Your Honor’s law clerk, and we were previously advised that Your Honor co-officiated her wedding. 28 U.S.C. Section 455(a) states that “[a]ny… judge … of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
Habba also noted that Canon 3 of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges makes it clear that a judge must "disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including" when the judge served as "a lawyer with whom the judge previously practiced law served."
Related: Did E. Jean Carroll Admit Her Real Motivations for Her Accusations Against Trump?
Let's recap: It appears the judge in this case, Lewis A. Kaplan, worked with Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, and officiated at her wedding. Carroll’s other lawyer was also a law clerk for Judge Lewis A. Kaplan. That Lewis Kaplan didn’t reveal these conflicts of interest is enough for him to face major consequences, but clearly, he should have recused himself from the case.
Habba is calling on the judge to confirm or deny the associations.
Here, without knowing more information (or having a specific factual denial by Your Honor that you had a mentor-mentee relationship with Ms. Kaplan), we are unable to flesh out our position concerning what specific relief should be requested, including, but not limited to, moving for new trials on the issues of liability and damages. Surely, however, this Court should provide defense counsel with all of the relevant facts. At a minimum, this information could certainly prove relevant to President Trump’s forthcoming Rule 59 motion.
Trump's defense was already planning to appeal the decision because of the judge being “overtly hostile.” These new revelations should make Trump's appeal a lot easier.
“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 said. “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."
In addition to aiding Trump's appeal, this news most certainly will reinforce his claims that the legal system has been weaponized against him, and it will motivate his supporters even more.