A fiery lawyer’s attempt to put Donald Trump first is failing

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

A fiery lawyer’s attempt to put Donald Trump first is failing

Doug Smith

January 16, 2024

The named defendant in the federal lawsuit was California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, but there was no doubt that the target was Donald J. Trump.

For a time, as legal maneuvering continued into the fall, it seemed that Los Angeles might be treated to one of its celebrated courtroom dramas, this time a constitutional showdown pitting a colorful civil rights lawyer against a volcanic former president in the courtroom of a Judge known for his fiery legal flair.

The case involved an injunction banning Weber from placing the Republican presidential candidate on the California ballot, based on the 14th Amendment’s insurrection clause.

It was also intended as a trap. If Trump’s legal team were to take the bait and join the case, the former president could be forced to face criticism under oath over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

At least that was the theory of Stephen Yagman, a lawyer both admired and reviled in local lore for his history of toppling sacred cows.

Over a two-decade period, Yagman brought legal action in cases against the LAPD and the U.S. government, establishing that Los Angeles Police Department officers and their leaders could be held personally liable for civil rights violations and that prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention center a right to a fair trial. He then suffered an ignominious fall with a


federal conviction for tax evasion and bankruptcy fraud. In his 70s, more than a decade after serving 29 months in prison, Yagman got his law license back and resumed fighting for needy victims of government abuse.

American neighborhood


Judge David O. Carter, no less colorful a figure than Yagman, has built a reputation for judicial unorthodoxy bordering on heavy-handedness. He has stood in court on Skid Row calling on mayors and supervisors to answer for their ineffective responses to homelessness. In two cases active at the time, Carter held the feet of LA County officials to the fire to secure a commitment for thousands of mental health beds and rebuff efforts by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to get out of a lawsuit over veterans’ housing. .

More relevant to Yagman’s case, Carter had found in a 2022 ruling stripping Trump’s legal counsel John Eastman of his attorney-client privilege that the two had likely attempted to illegally obstruct Congress by “initiating a coup d’état” search for a legal solution’. theory.

Would Carter, who raised Yagman’s case because it was related to the earlier one, continue this line of reasoning? Yagman hoped so.

When Trump’s lawyers took the bait and urged Carter to intervene, Yagman was practically foaming with anticipation.

“This court has a unique opportunity here and now to prevent a truly deranged and dangerous fool, Donald Trump, who has perpetrated an attack on American democracy, from becoming President of the United States again,” he wrote in a motion. that Trump “carelessly intervened (for him) to make himself the party defendant for the immediate action.”

He backed up his ever-eccentric legalese with a flight of literary allusions invoking both Socrates and The Rolling Stones.

“Trump is a mean man. He has no virtue whatsoever,” Yagman wrote, adding a lengthy footnote to the Greek philosopher’s concept of civic virtue.

“And contrary to what Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones sings… Trump, as the modern-day embodiment of the devil… deserves no sympathy….”

But it wasn’t available. Not once, but twice in the months that followed, Trump’s lawyers raised legal technicalities to undermine Yagman’s fiery rhetoric.

The first was based on status, a slippery legal concept that means something like skin in the game.

Yagman’s case made the tortuous argument that his client, a Republican voter who planned to vote for Trump, would be disenfranchised if Trump was ineligible to become president after the California primary in March.

Carter dismissed the case in November, finding his client lacked standing because “the damages he alleges are too general.”

Yagman had a backup strategy, an amended complaint that turned his case into a class action representing all Republican voters and naming Trump himself as a defendant under a new theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress.

His clients, he argued, were “direct victims of Trump’s actions in creating and participating in the insurrection,” both on Jan. 6 and during the “countless portrayals of those actions on television, on the radio, and in countless publications …’

After reconsideration, Carter set a hearing for January 8. But over the holidays, Trump’s lawyers convinced the judge that a hearing was not necessary. In a December 22 filing, Shawn E. Cowles of the Dhillon Law Group


provided eight reasons why the case had no merit, ranging from presidential immunity and First Amendment protections to “reasons to doubt the veracity of plaintiffs’ claim that he is a registered Republican voter in Los Angeles County.”

The decisive argument for the former president was based on the statute of limitations. Carter ignored Yagman’s claim that the injury was repeated every time images from Jan. 6 appeared on TV, radio or in print, ruling that the case was “barred” under California’s two-year law for negligent battery of emotional distress.

Yagman, whose past victories include establishing that lawyers cannot be punished for making disparaging comments about their judges, showed unusual magnanimity in his defeat.

Carter, he said, is a good judge and a decent human being.

“I’m happy with it because it’s him,” he told The Times. “Part of me is really sad to see it go, I really wanted to impeach Trump. But I’m ashamed of that, because then I would just be playing games. I wouldn’t get anything out of that other than grinning.”

Times researcher Scott Wilson contributed to this story.


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