Last week, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell had enough of Rudy Giuliani's shenanigans in the defamation lawsuit brought by Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss. She ruled in favor of the two women and said the only issue for the jury is how much Giuliani has to pay. Yesterday, Donald Trump avoided a trial on the issues in his ongoing defamation lawsuit from E. Jean Carroll. Smart! Saves him lawyers' fees! Well, maybe not, because the reason is that U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled yesterday that Trump defamed Carroll again and no trial is needed. Now the jury will have to decide only one thing: How much Trump has to pay Carroll. So he is in the same situation as Giuliani. The jury doesn't have to bother about deciding whether the defendant defamed the plaintiff. The judge ruled that the previous jury had already determined that identical statements were defamatory, and so no trial was needed. Now all the two juries have to decide is the amount of damages.
In Trump's case, it could be stupendous. After all, he was found liable for defaming Carroll already. He was ordered to pay her $5 million. He knew that calling her a liar was defamation. Yet he did it again. Boy, would we like to be a fly on the wall when the jury meets. We imagine some juror starting the bidding at $10 million. Then another bids $20 million. Then a third one says: "I need to get home. $50 million and let's all get out of here."
How large can a defamation judgment be? Well, when Alex Jones claimed that the killings of 20 children and six staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax staged with actors, the parents of the dead children sued him. The jury awarded them almost $1 billion for compensatory damages (i.e., to compensate them for their pain and suffering as a consequence of his defaming them). Later the judge added another $473 million in punitive damages to punish him for lying. It is doubtful that Jones has $1.5 billion, but with that kind of money potentially at stake, the plaintiffs can probably find a forensic accountant interested in digging deeply into Jones' finances for a share of the take.
Trump, in contrast, is in a far weaker position than Jones. Many of his assets are real estate items that are registered with county recorders. They are hard to hide. If the defamation verdict is high enough, Carroll could ask Kaplan to seize Trump Tower and have it auctioned off to pay her. That might upset Trump more than the four upcoming criminal trials combined.
Trump's lawyer, Alina Habba, said: "We remain very confident that the Carroll II verdict will be overturned on appeal, which will render this decision moot." On what basis can she predict that? Judges have the authority to rule from the bench when they feel that a case is so clear cut that no trial is needed, which is what Kaplan did. As an aside, Trump was not happy with Habba, even before yesterday's ruling. He already fired her from the case that New York AG Letitia James is working on. For her sake, we hope she was (well) paid in advance for her work. We find it hard to believe Trump can keep finding lawyers to defend him when he treats them like used tissues. This appears to be leading to a vicious circle downward. Every time he dumps a lawyer, it becomes that much harder to hire good quality replacements. Good ones don't want to put up with this. Then he has to hire lower quality lawyers, which often leads to poor results. That leads him to dump the lawyers. Rinse and repeat.
With four very high profile defamation cases (Trump 2x, Giuliani, Fox) decided recently, we wonder if folks on the right are going to be a bit more careful about what they say going forward. You'd think they would be, but you never know. (V)