With Donald Trump facing an $83.3 million defamation verdict, his lawyer Alina Habba wrote to Judge Lewis Kaplan to complain about the fact that the judge and E. Jean Carroll lawyer Roberta Kaplan (no relation) had worked at the same large law firm in the early 1990s. Habba cited a New York Post article published over the weekend that claimed Judge Kaplan had a mentor-mentee relationship with Carroll's lawyer back then.
In her own letter on Tuesday, Carroll's lawyer said that was false. Not only did they lack such a relationship, Roberta Kaplan wrote, but she has no recollection of having worked with Judge Kaplan at all during the less than two years they overlapped at the firm.
Even if they had worked together decades ago, there's no reason to think that would tank the defamation verdict. Habba suggested in her letter that Judge Kaplan should have recused himself, citing the code of conduct for federal judges. But she does a weird thing there, by highlighting language that seems to hurt, rather than help, her claim. Specifically, she emphasizes language that says a judge shall disqualify themselves from a proceeding when “a lawyer with whom the judge previously practiced law served during such association as a lawyer concerning the matter.”
That could have been a problem if the two Kaplans had worked together when Roberta Kaplan was working on the Carroll case — that is, per the language Habba cited, “during such association.” But they worked at the same firm in the early 1990s and didn't work together at all, as far as Carroll's lawyer recalls; the Carroll case was brought much more recently. So the language Habba highlighted appears to show why her own claim has no merit.
If anything, Habba's effort may hurt her in the long run. Roberta Kaplan ended her letter by writing that:
what is actually troubling is both the substance and timing of her false accusations of impropriety by on the part of E. Jean Carroll’s counsel or the Court. Accordingly, while we wanted to submit our response to Ms. Habba’s letter as soon as possible, we reserve all rights, including but not limited to the right to seek sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11.
Subscribe to the?Deadline: Legal?Newsletter?for weekly updates on the top legal stories, including news from the Supreme Court, the Donald Trump cases and more.