A federal judge on Thursday sanctioned former President Donald Trump and one of his top attorneys nearly $1 million for filing a sprawling lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and other perceived political enemies “that should never have been filed.”
U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks of Southern Florida said in his 46-page order that Trump, lead attorney Alina Habba and Habba Madaio & Associates were jointly liable for $937,989 in the suit, which he dismissed in September.
“This case should never have been brought. Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it,” Middlebrooks wrote, adding that the suit was intended “for a political purpose.”
He then went on to argue why he believed Trump, and not just his attorneys, was culpable.
“Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries. He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer. He knew full well the impact of his actions,” Middlebrooks wrote. “As such, I find that sanctions should be imposed upon Mr. Trump and his lead counsel, Ms. Habba.”
NBC News has asked Habba and a Trump spokesperson for comment.
Trump filed a lawsuit in March claiming that in 2016, Clinton, who was the Democratic presidential nominee at the time, and the Democratic National Committee, along with others, orchestrated a “malicious conspiracy” to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia, “destroying his life” and rigging the election in Clinton’s favor.
The initial complaint named numerous defendants, including former FBI Director James Comey and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
The sanctions issued Thursday were on behalf of 18 defendants who alleged in a joint motion in October that Trump knowingly filed a “factually unsupported, and legally unwarranted suit.”
Defendants had requested roughly $1 million to cover their attorney fees and costs, Middlebrooks said.
Middlebrooks’s order characterized Trump and his attorneys as having engaged in a “continuing pattern of misuse of the courts” and cited a series of lawsuits brought by Trump. Among them was last month’s defamation lawsuit against the Pulitzer Board and repeated lawsuits against New York Attorney General Letitia James, who investigated and eventually sued Trump over allegations of bank, tax and insurance fraud.
Such lawsuits, Middlebrooks said, undermined the rule of law, siphoned resources “from those who have suffered actual legal harm” and painted judges as partisans.
Zoë Richards is the evening politics reporter for NBC News.