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Trump revives fight over $937,989 fine in failed Clinton suit

Erik Larson, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Donald Trump is battling to reverse a $937,989 fine levied against him by a federal judge in Florida last year for bringing “frivolous” claims against Hillary Clinton — yet another effort by the former president to fight a string of costly courtroom losses.

Trump and his lawyer Alina Habba, who are jointly liable for the Florida fine, on Tuesday urged the federal appeals court in Atlanta to vacate a sanction they say was a “clear error” made by a politically biased judge. Trump is the Republican front-runner in the 2024 presidential election.

U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, imposed the penalty in January 2023 after concluding Trump was “using the courts as a stage set for political theater and grievance” by bringing the suit. The judge said “no reasonable lawyer would have filed it.”

Trump posted a bond of $1.03 million — or 110% of the fine — while appealing. That’s an arrangement he’ll soon have to replicate to challenge about $540 million he owes after losing a civil fraud suit brought by the New York attorney general and a defamation case in Manhattan by the writer E. Jean Carroll. Habba represented Trump in those cases, too.

The fine imposed by Middlebrooks is small compared with the two New York cases. Trump lost the civil fraud trial Feb. 16, when a judge ordered him to pay $454 million. Accrued interest alone on that verdict is growing by $111,983 every day he doesn’t pay.

In challenging the Florida court penalty, Trump and Habba are doubling down on their claim that Clinton led a vast conspiracy against Trump by working with the FBI and others to advance false Russia-related claims against him while he was in office.

 

A panel of three judges in Atlanta will decide whether to reverse the fine or even revive the suit against Clinton, which Middlebrooks eviscerated in his ruling to dismiss the complaint.

“Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start,” the judge said when issuing the sanctions. “No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.”

But Trump and Habba argue in their appeals court filing that Middlebrooks failed to give them due process to fight the fine before it was levied. They also argue the judge failed earlier in the case to recuse himself after Trump claimed Middlebrooks couldn’t be fair.

The sanctions fight could ultimately make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.


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