One of former President Donald Trump’s top lawyers disputed “fake news” reports that she’s gone from his legal team in E. Jean Carroll’s rape case.
“I am not withdrawing as counsel,” attorney Alina Habba told Law&Crime flatly, in a phone interview. “I have not withdrawn as counsel, period.”
Carroll has two active lawsuits pending against Trump over allegations that he raped her in a dressing room of a Bergdorf Goodman store in the mid-1990s. One case confronts the assault allegations head-on through New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for alleged victims of sexual abuse. The other accuses Trump of defaming her by responding to her rape allegations by claiming: “She’s not my type.”
“Transition of Counsel”
As attorneys prepare for a civil trial on the rape accusation currently slated for April, confusion reigns in and outside the court about recent developments inside Trump’s legal team — and how that might affect the case.
Shortly after Habba and the former president were hit with a scathing sanctions order that imposed a nearly $1 million penalty for “frivolous” and “vexatious” litigation on Trump’s behalf in Florida, the attorney asked to withdraw from a separate case against New York State Attorney General Letitia James.
Multiple news outlets have since reported that Habba announced her exit from Carroll’s lawsuit.
Habba has not filed a motion to withdraw from Carroll’s lawsuit, but Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan claimed that Habba announced the exit internally.
“Yesterday, counsel from Habba Madaio & Associates LLP told us that they intend to withdraw from this case,” Kaplan wrote, saying that would leave attorney Joseph Tacopina as Trump’s sole counsel.
In a response letter filed in court, Habba didn’t exactly dispute the shake-up, alluding vaguely to a “transition of counsel.” She insisted in a phone interview that she simply meant Tacopina joining Trump’s legal team.
“He is going to be assisting with the case,” she said, calling Tacopina a “great attorney.”
Tacopina’s other high-profile clients have included former New York Yankees third basemen Alex Rodriguez, rapper Jay-Z, Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, New York State Senator Hiram Monserrate, and Kimberly Guilfoyle.
Carroll’s lawyer did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
“Another Tactic to Attempt to Delay”
In her letter, Carroll’s lawyer said that she had no objection to changes inside Trump’s legal team — “at least in principle.”
“However, we are concerned that Defendant may seek to use this late-stage substitution of counsel as yet another tactic to attempt to delay the proceedings—this time, as the parties prepare for trial,” Roberta Kaplan wrote.
Habba denied in a letter that there would be any delay.
“Contrary to Plaintiff’s contention, the transition of counsel is not in any way intended to delay or hinder the adjudication of this action,” Habba wrote. “If anything, the circumstances surrounding the submission of Plaintiff’s letter — which was sent while the parties were gathered for Plaintiff’s deposition and without notice or warning to defense counsel — suggests that it is Plaintiff who seeks to ‘leverage’ the shift in counsel to her advantage.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who shares a surname with Carroll’s lawyer but isn’t related to her, has long accused Trump’s legal team of delay tactics.
Trump’s team tenaciously litigated Carroll’s case at every turn, from its inception in a state courthouse in Manhattan in 2019.
“As this Court previously has observed, Mr. Trump has litigated this case since it began in 2019 with the effect and probably the purpose of delaying it,” the judge wrote in October 2022, some three years later.
Originally litigated in New York County Supreme Court, the case migrated to federal court — the Southern District of New York — after the Department of Justice under Attorney General Bill Barr moved to intervene in the case, arguing that Trump was immune under the Westfall Act for statements he made as president. Though Barr’s successor Merrick Garland embraced the same position, Judge Kaplan rejected the Justice Department’s motion to intervene. An intermediate appellate court partially overruled the lower court on that question, and the controversy remains pending before the D.C. Court of Appeals.
However the appellate court rules, at least one of Carroll’s lawsuits will likely endure because the latter relates to Trump’s alleged actions before and after his presidency.
Trump litigated several other pre-trial matters in the interim, filing and losing multiple motions to dismiss and stay the proceedings.
Habba insists that Trump’s team isn’t trying to use any shake-up in their legal team to postpone the case.
“To be clear, Defendant is not seeking any adjournment or extension of the Court’s Scheduling Order based solely upon the change of counsel,” she wrote. “There are, however, several scheduling-related issues that have arisen recently that we would like to raise and seek appropriate intervention by this Court. Therefore, we believe it would be in the best interest of all parties for the Court to set a conference to discuss the schedule and upcoming trial date.”
Kaplan has scheduled a conference on Tuesday, Feb. 7, to discuss the case’s next steps.
Read Habba’s letter below:
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]