Alina Habba, Call Your Lawyer
And maybe a priest ...
Alina Habba is the worst lawyer in Trumpland, and it’s not close.
The competition is stiff, but Habba easily bests all comers. No one else managed to get the client sanctioned to the tune of a million dollars for “strategic abuse of the judicial process.” She’s been described as “the one Trump lawyer the rest of Trump’s legal team loathes,” and was reportedly shunted off in July to be “legal spokesperson and general counsel” at Trump’s Save America PAC. And yet there she is, scowling theatrically next to Trump every day during his civil fraud trial in New York.
Legal observers scratched their heads in 2021, when Habba replaced Trump’s longtime lawyer Mark Kasowitz in the E. Jean Carroll case and a similar claim brought by a former “Apprentice” contestant who accused Trump of making unwanted sexual advances. Habba’s biggest client before that was a parking garage company — hardly the typical resumé for a lawyer representing a billionaire client in high-profile defamation litigation. But this week we got what looks like Habba’s villain origin story in the form of a discrimination lawsuit in the Superior Court of New Jersey against Lamington Farm Club, d/b/a Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.
And if the truth is as alleged in these documents, then Alina Habba is about to have some major legal problems of her own.
Nancy Erika Smith is an employment litigation powerhouse who sued Fox News and Roger Ailes in 2016 for sexual harassment, winning a reported $20 million settlement and public apology for her client Gretchen Carlson. On Wednesday she filed a complaint and motion for injunctive relief on behalf of an Alice Bianco, a former server at Trump’s Bedminster club.
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Bianco began working for the club in May of 2021, just after her 21st birthday. She says that she faced persistent harassment from food and beverage manager Pavel Melichar and was soon forced into a quid pro quo sexual relationship with him as a condition of her employment and his continued “protection.” In July, after Bianco refused to have sex with him any more, Melichar allegedly retaliated by giving her bad shifts and allowing other employees to steal her tips.
On July 19, another employee handed a letter to “a member of Donald Trump’s personal staff,” detailing the abuse, after which HR contacted Bianco, and she got herself a lawyer.
Bianco was working the morning shift on July 28, when Habba approached her and said that she had “heard” about the employment issue and wanted to “help her.” When Bianco replied that she was already represented by counsel, Habba allegedly said “you know you can fire [said counsel] at any time, right?”
Right here is the point where blood starts rushing to the head of any lawyer reading this complaint. You DO NOT approach a someone who is already represented by counsel. That’s more or less the third thing they teach you in legal ethics class, right after (1) don’t steal from your clients, and (2) don’t have sex with them. It’s really hard to get suspended from the practice of law — see: John Eastman and Sidney Powell — but those three things are the kind of shit that will do it.
Nevertheless, she persisted!
Holding herself out as a “neutral” party, Habba got Bianco’s cell number, texting her later that day “Hi love! It’s Alina I wanted to check on u.” In a series of phone calls and emoji-laden texts, Habba disparaged Bianco’s lawyer and advised her to ghost him.
On August 6, Bianco’s lawyer withdrew from the representation, at which point she actually was unrepresented.
"[H]i! I'm at work rn I just wanted to update you I did exactly what you said nothing Imfao and the lawyer texted me this morning and fired me?? LMFAO I don't get it but whatever,” Bianco texted Habba on August 6.
So it’s all good, right?
JK, lolol … no, it’s not alright. Because Habba appears to have been working with the Trump club, where she routinely socialized with the former president. Indeed, when she lured Bianco out to the parking lot for an August 5 confab in her douchemobile, Habba not only knew the details of Bianco’s complaint, but assured the young woman that she would square it with the club’s general manager, Dave Schutzenhofer, if she got in trouble for exceeding the 15-minute lunch break allotted during her 16-hour shift.
“You don't want to go public with this. I've been raped, I can help you, I can protect you," Habba said, according to the complaint, adding "with your past- maybe you can get [a paltry sum]."
Again, we are talking about a 21-year-old who was coerced into having sex with her 50-something manager, only to be told by a lawyer who purported to be her friend that her sexual history was a bar to recovery.
"Attorneys want to take control from you" Habba went on, in a brazen dare to every karmic force in the universe, along with the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics. Then, in case her peccadillo wasn’t clear enough the first time, she’s alleged to have discouraged Bianco from seeking advice of counsel, saying “I am trying to help you, you are going to make it more difficult.” Habba promised that Bianco would be “protected” if she signed a "simple" non-disclosure agreement.
And it just so happened that Habba had a “simple” NDA lying around. Not one that complied with New Jersey law, which bars non-disclosure agreements in the case of workplace harassment and retaliation, mind you, but, well …
“Under New Jersey discrimination law, the nondisclosure portion is void as against public policy. That’s black letter law,” former federal prosecutor Mitchell Epner, a current member at Rottenberg Lipman Rich, told me. “But, if the plaintiff wants to get the entire agreement thrown out, one very promising avenue is demonstrating that the plaintiff was dissuaded from consulting an independent counsel.”
Who is the client here?
On August 11, after being explicitly discouraged from talking to another lawyer, Bianco showed up at Habba’s office to sign a settlement agreement sight unseen. The contract purported to be between two unrepresented parties and prepared “by [a] neutral attorney representing neither party.”
Naturally, Habba included language protecting herself:
Each Party acknowledges that it has been advised to obtain independent legal counsel, that it has voluntarily refused and/or waived its right to consult with an attorney and that it has read and understands the contents and legal effect of this Agreement. The Parties acknowledge that the neutral attorney is acting for the sole purpose of drafting the Agreement of the Parties and that the neutral attorney is released from any and all responsibility or liability in connection with the drafting of this Agreement and any potential consequences arising therefrom.
Bianco, however, got zero protection in the event the deal went sideways. In fact, the contract contained a liquidated damages provision requiring Bianco to disgorge the entire settlement and pay $1,000 per day if she talked about it. It did not contain the statutorily mandated “bold, prominently placed notice” that a confidentiality agreement is not enforceable against the employee at all, and not enforceable against the employer “if the employee publicly reveals sufficient details of the claim so that the employer is reasonably identifiable.”
According to the complaint, Habba warned Bianco not to try to sell her story, because she’d only get $3,000 and would have to give back all the money she got from the settlement. Bianco also alleges that Habba promised the club would pay her therapy bills and all taxes on the severance payment. This was false — indeed, the plain language of the contract specifically made Bianco responsible for paying her own taxes, as she discovered when she went to file her tax return in April. But when she messaged Habba, she got brushed off and told “I can’t technically give you legal advice.” By then, Habba was working for Trump, as she had been since approximately five seconds after Bianco signed the agreement (if not earlier).
Incidentally, that settlement is referred to throughout the document as a “paltry sum.” And if the “15K” in this text is a reference to the settlement check, “paltry” is putting it mildly.
What does the plaintiff want here?
Habba is not a named defendant in the lawsuit, which asks the court to enjoin the Trump club from enforcing the contract and to declare it void because it was fraudulently induced. But the complaint devotes two full pages to listing the provisions of the New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct which Habba allegedly violated, along with a request that the court refer Habba and Habba Madaio & Associates to the Office of Attorney Ethics for ethics violations. And the supporting brief goes even further, specifically alleging that Habba “cynically got Plaintiff to sign an agreement drafted by her which claimed that she and the firm were ‘neutral’ when, in reality, Habba and her firm represented the interests of defendant and Donald Trump.”
“Every day that Ms. Bianco is afraid to speak about her harassment for fear of draconian and illegal penalties violates her rights,” Bianco added, noting that Habba’s law partner, Michael Madaio, who also represents Trump, notarized the document.
“I always conduct myself ethically and acted no differently in this circumstance,” Habba told Politico last week.
But Epner, a veteran of the US Attorney’s Office in New Jersey, had a different take, placing the allegations “in the pantheon of horrific New Jersey attorney conduct, and that’s saying a lot.”
A judicial declaration that this document was fraudulently induced would be a very bad omen for Habba’s continued license to practice law and a very good omen for any future civil suit brought by Bianco. But before that, the parties will have to go through intensive discovery to work out the facts.
Good thing Alina made darn sure that she won’t be able to assert attorney-client privilege by putting it in writing that she wasn’t representing anyone here!
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