In a recent high-profile defamation case against former President Donald Trump, lead attorney Alina Habba faced significant challenges and criticism during her cross-examination of plaintiff E. Jean Carroll. The courtroom drama, overseen by U.S.
District Judge Lewis Kaplan, unfolded with numerous interruptions and admonitions directed at Habba for not adhering to court rules and procedures. The tension escalated when Habba sought an adjournment, citing Trump's need to attend his mother-in-law’s funeral.
Kaplan, appointed by Bill Clinton, firmly denied the request, emphasizing the finality of his decision. The trial experienced a pause when Habba attempted to introduce a document not yet formally admitted as evidence, prompting Kaplan to instruct her to review proper evidentiary procedures.
Habba's approach raised eyebrows, particularly when she inquired about Carroll's potential deletion of emailed threats post-subpoena, and called for a mistrial citing "deleted evidence." Kaplan quickly dismissed the request, instructing the jury to disregard Habba's statement.
Expert Criticism and Challenges
Business Insider's analysis highlighted approximately 14 instances of Kaplan's interventions during Habba's questioning. Kaplan's authority in the courtroom was evident, as he reminded Habba that rulings were his prerogative, not the lawyers'
Critiques of Habba's courtroom performance came from various legal experts. Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis, and former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega, among others, expressed concerns over Habba's effectiveness and the potential negative impact on the jury.
Former Trump White House lawyer Ty Cobb described Habba's performance as "minor league," acknowledging Kaplan's patience and attempts to guide her. Andrew Weissmann, another former federal prosecutor, pointed out the challenge Habba faced stepping in for attorney Joe Tacopina.
He suggested that while Habba might be skilled outside the courtroom, her expertise didn't extend to trial work.
Katie Phang's Expert Assessment
MSNBC legal analyst Katie Phang further critiqued Habba's lack of competence, particularly in entering evidence and impeaching witnesses.
Phang argued that Habba's trial skills were insufficient for such a high-stakes case, implying that Trump was getting the representation he paid for. Phang also highlighted the absence of cameras and audio in the courtroom, which limited public access to the proceedings, allowing only Trump and Habba's post-trial narratives to shape public perception.
This scenario, according to Phang, contributes to a "perversion of the judicial system." The case, drawing national attention, underscores the intricate dynamics of high-profile litigation, the critical role of competent legal representation, and the influence of courtroom proceedings on public opinion.