Trump’s strange behavior in court

In the defamation case against him, serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) was so disruptive during the testimony of E. Jean Carroll that it clearly exasperated the federal district judge Lewis Kaplan, so much so that he admonished him.

When Carroll first took the stand, Trump could be seen whispering to his lead attorney, Alina Habba. He sat with slightly hunched shoulders as Carroll testified.

As Carroll spoke, Trump complained audibly and appeared to double down on defamatory denials, her lawyer said during a morning break in the proceedings.

“Mr Trump has been sitting at the back table and has been loudly saying things throughout Ms Carroll’s testimony,” said attorney Shawn Crowley.

“It’s loud enough for us to hear it,” Crowley said, so “I imagine it’s loud enough for the jury to hear it.”

Before court resumed after the break, Judge Lewis Kaplan cautioned: “I’m just going to ask Mr Trump to take special care to keep his voice down when conferring with counsel, so that the jury does not overhear.”

Trump did not heed Kaplan’s instruction and, before the lunch break, Crowley brought up his comments again.

“The defendant has been making statements again [that] we can hear at counsel table,” Crowley said.

“He said it is a ‘witch-hunt,’ it really is a con-job.”

Kaplan said: “Mr Trump has the right to be present here. That right can be forfeited, and it can be forfeited if he is disruptive, which is what has been reported to me, and if he disregards court orders.

“Mr Trump, I hope I don’t have to consider excluding you from the trial … I understand you are probably very eager for me to do that.”

“I would love it, I would love it,” Trump said and gestured.

“I know you would, you just can’t control yourself in this circumstance, apparently.”

“You can’t either.”

Even SSAT’s lawyer Alina Habba was rude and combative with the judge.

Trump’s antics appeared infectious to his legal team. His lawyer, Alina Habba, also seemed to lose whatever control she had in court, with the judge repeatedly telling her to sit down. Habba then annoyed Kaplan further by asking for proceedings to be adjourned on Thursday, the scheduled date for his mother-in-law’s funeral – even though he had denied this request on prior occasions.

Kaplan told Habba he would not entertain another argument on it. “None. None. Do you understand that word, none?”

He told Habba to sit. She did not.

“I said sit down.”

Habba did not, and said she wanted to bring up another issue.

“I don’t like to be spoken to that way, your honor,” Habba commented. “I will ask you to refrain from speaking to me that way.”

Kaplan repeated to Habba that her request for an adjournment was denied.

“Sit down.”

At another point during the day, Habba started to address the court while sitting down. “When you speak in this courtroom or any other courtroom in this building, you stand up,” Kaplan said stiffly.

Other lawyers suggest that Habba is out of her depth and does not know what she is doing.

I do not understand the strategy of SSAT and his lawyer. No doubt they acted that way because they think it plays well with his cult followers who delight in his childish displays of petulance, as if he were a toddler. He seemed like he wanted the judge to throw him out of the court so that he could whine about how his rights were being infringed. But in this trial, the facts of his assault are not in dispute because that has already been determined in the previous trial by jury and the judge said that they could not re-litigate that issue. This trial is only about the amount of damages that SSAT should pay

Damages can be for actual harm done and also serve as a punitive measure so as to discourage further similar behavior. By behaving in this way before a jury of nine people, SSAT risks making them think that he will simply not shut up unless they impose a hefty penalty. Carroll’s lawyer Crowley specifically made that point.

Crowley, for Carroll, said in her opening that jurors needed to impose damages that would stop Trump from continuing to smear her client.

“He is continuing to tell these lies to this very day – earlier this month, last week, even today. You will hear that as Donald Trump faces trial over how much money it will take to get him to stop defaming Ms Carroll, he keeps doing it. He sat in this courthouse. You saw him,” Crowley said.

“At the end of this trial, it will be your job to decide how much money Donald Trump should pay for what he’s done to Ms Carroll, and how much money he should pay, it will take, to get him to stop defaming her, so that Ms Carroll can maybe, finally, live her life in peace,” Crowley said.

“We submit that that number should be significant. Very significant. Donald Trump, after all, is a self-proclaimed billionaire.”

SSAT’s lawyer questioned why Carroll had waited until now to make the allegations and suggested that she was seeking fame in order to sell books. But there is a counter to that.

One of the things that changed in Carroll’s favor was the move by the New York state legislature to change the statute of limitations for victims of sexual assault, trial attorney Bernard Alexander told Salon.

“Carroll for many years had no incentive to speak out against Trump,” Alexander said. “To speak without an objective would only prompt a Trump attack or perhaps litigation initiated by him.”

Given Trump’s public statements, she may have been prompted to respond and set the record straight, he added.

In this case, where liability for defamation has already been found, Trump’s lawyers’ objective is to “minimize” the damages, Alexander continued. Habba is trying to attack Carroll’s motive in an effort to attack her credibility. 

“Defamation cases do not have an inherent, intrinsic value,” he said. “The value of the case is based on the credibility of the plaintiff, the extent to which the jury is angry at the defendant, and arguments made by plaintiff’s counsel as to how the jury should value the harm.”

It has become common to say that SSAT is cleverly gaming the system for his benefit, by belittling institutions. No doubt he may think that he will gain by doing so and that his bluster and boorish behavior are to his benefit. But it is also the case that he is stupid and impulsive and cannot control his raging anger, and that what we saw in the court was self-destructive behavior. Attacking a woman who is now 80 years old is a risky strategy.

It will be interesting to see how the jury responds to these displays of contempt by SSAT for norms and institutions. His fan base loves them but ordinary people may not be so enthused.


  1. says

    My own view is that SSAT is entirely about performing for his cult followers, who have no idea what is really going on. All they know is what SSAT and his lawyer tell them. Asking why SSAT is doing what what we can see he is doing misses his point. He controls the information flow to MAGA-land and that is all that matters to him.

  2. Katydid says

    There used to be a program on tv called Judge Judy, where an actual (former?) judge listened to small-claims-court cases and made her ruling. She was pretty cranky and if anyone acted up, she threw their case out or ruled against them. She told them their behavior was why she was ruling against them.

    Amazing how everyday, ordinary people are held to a standard of behavior that Trump refuses to observe…and Trump gets away with it. Maybe Judge Judy needs to preside over his court cases, too. She didn’t put up with anything.

  3. file thirteen says

    Katydid #2:

    Sheindlin’s role in “Judge” Judy is one of arbiter, not judge. She hasn’t presided as a judge for nigh on 30 years.

    I would have liked to think that court-show dramas had little relation to real courts, but it is annoying to read of SSAT apparently being able to freely engage in contemptuous behaviour without penalty.

    So I actually agree with you. I think Sheindlin would be one of the few able to cope with SSAT’s behaviour. It would make for good entertainment too.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    In regard to the impulsive conduct of SSAT , the skin rashes on his hand has led to speculation about him having second-stage syphilis. I do not know anything about dermatology or STDs so I would be grateful for some input…

  5. John Morales says

    Heh. Was just reading Pharyngula’s Endless Thread ( and saw this citation there by Reginald Selkirk in his comment:
    E. Jean Carroll judge bench-slaps Trump’s attorney 14 times over basic lawyering in a single day of testimony

    I quite enjoyed reading that article, which I confess elicited the odd chuckle.

    (#3 in particular; I do like me some pedantry)

  6. says

    My view is that he’s a very naughty boy.
    And he’s starting to lose his mind with dementia, which sometimes makes a person loop back to behaviors they are comfortable with and can accomplish satisfactorily. So, what if you’re a malignant narcissist asshole with dementia? Abusing people is your comfort zone.

    Habba’s more interesting. She’s just a renfield, though.

  7. says

    @Marcus Ranum
    Developmental regression and reliance on ways of interacting that worked for them came to mind. I’m a little paranoid about that kind of broad statement right now.

    Otherwise Habba is irrational and defiant like Trump and seems used to getting her way by avoiding morals and ethics. Similar and from different places.

  8. Alan G. Humphrey says

    The following is for entertainment purposes only.

    About those red stains on SSAT’s hand, which of the following two hypotheses makes for a better conspiracy? He forgot to wipe his hands after squeezing the “juice” from an infant for his youth elixir, or someone used a new AI which can overlay modifications to an image file without leaving artifacts.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    As SSAT is said to be something of a hypocondriac, he would probably run to a doctor the moment he has the slightest symptom of something. Yet he has proven himself to be unpredictable. The cognitive decline explanation is certainly more likely but I have learned never, ever to rule anything out …

    Except possibly SSAT being a shape-shifting alien. Kang and Kodos would be significantly smarter (after all, they successfully impersonated Bill Clinton and Bob Dole).

  10. John Morales says

    Kang and Kodos would be significantly smarter (after all, they successfully impersonated Bill Clinton and Bob Dole).

    Nope. Fictional characters, they. Not at all smart, inasmuch as they don’t exist.

    (This is where my now-absent “nemesis” would call me hyper-literal)

    As SSAT is said to be something of a hypocondriac [blah]

    He’s also said to be something of an instrument of God.

    Yet he has proven himself to be unpredictable.

    Presumably, next time you predict something about him you won’t mind if I remind you of this claim.

  11. birgerjohansson says

    John Morales @ 12
    SSAT is something of a quantum character- while you can rely on him to be revolting, you can never predict exactly what he will do or where he is going.
    Of course he is an instrument of god- the question is wether it is Jaweh* or Nyarlahotep, aka “The Crawling Chaos”
    (if you dislike references to a fictional entity invented by a super-racist author, I would reply “fictional narrative” and “racism” happens whenever SSAT opens his mouth, so it is at least poetically apt) .

  12. KG says

    Fictional characters, they. Not at all smart, inasmuch as they don’t exist. -- John Morales@12

    That’s funny. You made numerous comments on a recent Pharyngula thread in which you and I were arguing about “possible worlds”, insisting that fictional characters do, too, exist. Could it be that, like Trump, you will say whatever seems to serve your currrent purpose without bothering about consistency?

  13. John Morales says


    You made numerous comments on a recent Pharyngula thread in which you and I were arguing about “possible worlds”, insisting that fictional characters do, too, exist.

    That’s funny. Quote me, if you dare. You’ll find I did not.

    (What, you somehow imagined I subscribe to Heinlein’s “World as Myth” conceit?)

    Could it be that, like Trump, you will say whatever seems to serve your currrent purpose without bothering about consistency?

    Could it be that, like Trump, you will say whatever seems to serve your currrent purpose without bothering about truthfulness?

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