NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s lawyer on Friday renewed a mistrial request in a New York defamation case against the former president, saying that an advice columnist who accused him of sexually abusing her in the 1990s spoiled her civil case by deleting emails from strangers who threatened her with death.
Attorney Alina Habba told a judge in a letter that writer E. Jean Carroll’s trial was ruined when Habba elicited from Carroll through her questions that Carroll had deleted an unknown number of social media messages containing death threats.
She said Carroll “failed to take reasonable steps to preserve relevant evidence. In fact, she did much worse — she actively deleted evidence which she now attempts to rely on in establishing her damages claim.”
When Habba first made the mistrial request with Trump sitting beside her as Carroll was testifying Wednesday, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan denied it without comment.
In her letter, Habba said the deletions were significant because Carroll’s lawyers have made the death threats, which they blame on Trump’s statements about Carroll, an important reason why they say the jury should award Carroll $10 million in compensatory damages and millions more in punitive damages.
The jury is only deciding what damages, if any, to award to Carroll after a jury last year found that Trump sexually abused her in the dressing room of a Bergdorf Goodman store in spring 1996 and defamed her with statements he made in October 2022. That jury awarded Carroll $5 million in damages.
The current trial, focused solely on damages, pertains only to two statements Trump made while president in June 2019 after learning about Carroll’s claims in a magazine article carrying excerpts from Carroll’s memoir, which contained her first public claims about Trump.
Habba noted in her letter that Carroll, 80, testified that she became so frightened when she read one of the first death threats against her that she ducked because she feared she was about to get shot.
Robbie Kaplan, an attorney for Carroll who is not related to the judge, declined comment.
Also on Friday, both sides filed written arguments at the judge’s request on whether Trump’s lawyers can argue to the jury that Carroll had a duty to mitigate any harm caused by Trump’s public statements.
Habba asked the judge to instruct the jury that Carroll had an obligation to minimize the effect of the defamation she endured.
Robbie Kaplan said, however, that Habba should be stopped from making such an argument to the jury, as she already did in her opening statement, and that the jury should be instructed that what Habba told them was incorrect.
“It would be particularly shocking to hold that survivors of sexual abuse must keep silent even as their abuser defames them publicly,” she wrote.
The trial resumes Monday, when Trump will have an opportunity to testify after Carroll’s lawyers finish presenting their case.
Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press