Attorney General Letitia James’ office asked a judge to punish the former president’s attorneys: Lawyers representing former President Donald Trump in the last few years, especially those working on his election lawsuits, have found themselves in a frequent ethical predicament: They have to serve their client, but in doing so, it would put them in a position to say things in court or in legal filings that aren’t true, or otherwise act unethically.
“For Trump’s Lawyers,” the New York Times reported last fall, “legal exposure comes with the job.” The story opened with the joke that “MAGA” now stands for “Making Attorneys Get Attorneys.” The piece stated the phenomenon that representing Trump can be a hazardous proposition.
“Over six years and nine major investigations by Congress, the Justice Department, and local prosecutors, as Mr. Trump has managed to avoid removal from the presidency and indictment, it has become clear that serving as one of his lawyers is a remarkably risky job — and one that can involve considerable legal exposure. Time after time, his attorneys have been asked to testify as witnesses to potential crimes — or evaluated as possible criminal conspirators themselves,” the Times said.
The latest example of that comes from the New York State Attorney General’s Office’s lawsuit against the former president. Most recently, the judge in the case rejected a motion to dismiss it, and also called the lawyers’ filing in the matter both “frivolous” and “borderline frivolous even the first time defendants made them.”
“This court (and at least two others) has soundly rejected the ‘witch hunt’ argument,” the judge said.
Last month, in fact, a Florida judge sanctioned both Trump himself and one of his attorneys, Alina Habba, to the tune of nearly $1 million, for what was described as a frivolous lawsuit against Trump’s 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton.
“This case should never have been brought. Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start,” the judge’s order said. “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 … Thirty-one individuals and entities were needlessly harmed in order to dishonestly advance a political narrative. A continuing pattern of misuse of the courts by Mr. Trump and his lawyers undermines the rule of law, portrays judges as partisans, and diverts resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm.”
On Tuesday, per the Washington Post, attorneys for Attorney General Letitia James sought sanctions against Trump’s attorneys.
Kevin Wallace, senior enforcement counsel at James’ office, wrote a letter to New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron arguing that the Trump lawyers had made frivolous claims.
“A cursory review of the [filings] reveals that a number of the denials are demonstrably false and actually contradict sworn statements by the Defendants in other proceedings,” Wallace wrote in the letter, per the Post. The letter also accused the attorneys of making claims that are contradicted by previous claims and testimony.
Last September, Attorney General James sued Trump and his three oldest children, alleging that they “used fraudulent statements of financial condition to obtain millions in economic benefits.” The suit called for the Trumps to repay $250 million and their banishment from future leadership roles in New York.
The suit is not a criminal prosecution, although it did come with criminal referrals.
“The lawsuit alleges that Donald Trump, with the help of his children Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump, and senior executives at the Trump Organization, falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to induce banks to lend money to the Trump Organization on more favorable terms than would otherwise have been available to the company, to satisfy continuing loan covenants, to induce insurers to provide insurance coverage for higher limits and at lower premiums, and to gain tax benefits, among other things,” James said in the announcement of the September lawsuit.
Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.