Real estate magnate Donald Trump has had many brushes
for his hair with the law over the years. Sometimes the law has caused him headaches or embarrassment; he’s not as much of a legal eagle as his big sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry (3d Cir.). On other occasions, though, he has enjoyed the last laugh.
In his latest courtroom appearance, Trump schlepped down to Florida, testified as a trial witness, and prevailed. But now the losing party in that case has filed a motion for new trial, arguing that the presiding judge fawned over the Donald in front of the jury and, in doing so, “transgressed basic principles of impartiality and fairness.”
Let’s learn more about this fun motion….
The underlying litigation arose out of one of Trump’s failed real estate ventures. Here’s a report from South Florida Lawyers:
Did Judge [Jeffrey] Streitfeld give Donald Trump the “star treatment” when he testified recently in Broward County circuit court?
Those are the blockbuster allegations in this new trial motion, which asserts that both the lending of the Judge’s glasses and his jovial “You’re Fired” tag at the end of The Donald’s testimony unduly “elicited visible feelings of goodwill” toward
that gaseous windbagthe defendant.
You can read more details over at South Florida Lawyers and in the plaintiffs’ full motion. The gist of the motion is that Judge Streitfeld, through his playful banter with the Donald, “acknowledged Mr. Trump as a celebrity with a popular show on TV, and turned what was supposed to be a solemn courtroom proceeding into something more reminiscent of a reality show episode…. The result was to support Mr. Trump as a ‘good guy’ and likeable celebrity in front of the jury, and to elicit visible feelings of goodwill from the jury to the Defendant.”
What does Judge Streitfeld have to say for himself? He told Local10.com that he treated Trump no differently from any other party before him — guys in my high school offered witnesses their eyeglasses all the time, it was no big deal — and that he often uses humor to lighten up courtroom proceedings. In addition, some commenters over at South Florida Lawyers wonder if plaintiffs’ counsel should have objected at the time or requested some type of curative instruction.
UPDATE (4:15 p.m.): We just received a statement from Jared Beck, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, about the preservation issue (in response to an email query from us). Here’s the key part: “We did not raise a contemporaneous objection — Florida law recognizes the doctrine of fundamental error. The seminal Florida Supreme Court is Murphy v. International Robotic Systems, and the basic idea is this: when the error at trial is fundamental enough, preservation for appeal requires only that we move for a new trial, which we have done. Murphy was decided in the context of improper closing argument, and the doctrine has also been applied to improper judicial conduct.” (Flip to the next page for Jared Beck’s full statement.)
The plaintiffs’ lawyers also argue that the judge erred on an evidentiary issue and that he acted impatiently towards them, making them look bad in front of the jury. But impatience and high-handedness might just be Judge Streitfeld’s standard operating procedure (see these reviews on The Robing Room).
The motion was filed by Elizabeth Lee Beck and Jared H. Beck of Beck & Lee Trial Lawyers. This husband-and-wife team is well-pedigreed — she’s a Yale Law grad, he’s a Harvard Law grad — but new-trial motions can be an uphill climb.
Do you think they have a shot? Flip to the next page for the full motion, then discuss in the comments.