Alina Habba did argue with a judge, but she didn't forget to check off 'jury' box | Fact check

The claim: Alina Habba ‘defied’ judge in E. Jean Carroll case; forgot to check off jury box in NY fraud case

A Feb. 16 Facebook post (direct link, archive link) from liberal group Occupy Democrats shows a photo of Alina Habba, one of the attorneys on former President Donald Trump’s defense team.

“Meet Alina Habba: Defied judge’s rules in the E. Jean Carroll case, which cost Trump $83.3 million. Didn’t check off the ‘jury’ box on a court form in the NY AG fraud case, which now cost Trump another $463.9 million," reads text on the picture. "But you know, Trump has ‘the best people.’”

The text is a quote of a post on X (formerly Twitter) from Tristan Snell, the former assistant attorney general in New York who investigated and prosecuted Trump University.

The post was shared more than 1,000 times in two weeks.

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Our rating: Partly false

Habba had a tense interaction with the judge presiding over the lawsuit between columnist E. Jean Carroll and Trump and contested one of his rulings. But the description of a jury "box" oversight is wrong. In Trump's civil fraud case, the judge confirmed Habba did not forget to check off a box to get a jury trial.

Civil fraud case was slated for bench trial from the start

Occupy Democrats co-founder Rafael Rivero told USA TODAY that the post's reference to defying a judge stems from a heated disagreement between Habba and U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who oversaw the defamation trial between Carroll, a former advice columnist, and Trump, who was previously found liable of sexually abusing Carroll in the 1990s.

During the trial, Habba tried to present a slide of social media posts as a part of her closing arguments, but Kaplan did not allow it to be shown because it hadn’t been previously entered into evidence. When Habba continued to contest that ruling, Kaplan threatened to send her to jail.

The jury later decided in favor of Carroll on Jan. 26, and Trump was ordered to pay her $83.3 million.

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The other half of Occupy Democrats’ claim is about the civil fraud trial brought against Trump by New York Attorney General Letitia James. She sued the Trump family and senior executives at the Trump Organization, alleging they fraudulently inflated Trump’s net worth.

The widely circulated rumor that Habba forgot to check a box to request a jury for the trial was debunked by the judge himself, Arthur Engoron. ABC News reported on Oct. 11, 2023, that Engoron said no one “forgot” to check off anything.

“We are having a non-jury trial because we are hearing a non-jury case," he said. “It would have not helped to make a motion. Nobody forgot to check off a box.”

Engoron said James had requested the case not be decided by a jury, which is reflected in court documents. That meant it would be a bench trial, which is when the judge makes the final ruling.

The process to seek a jury trial instead would have required filing a motion for a jury trial, not checking a box. Trump's team filed no such motion.

Even if they had, Engoron said, he would have denied it since James asked for "equitable" relief, which does not entitle participants to a jury trial.

Trump also said in a video on Truth Social that there was "no box to check."

In the end, Engoron ruled in favor of the attorney general.

Occupy Democrats is also a bit off on the judgment imposed on Trump. The post claims Trump was ordered to pay $463.9 million, but that represents the entire fine between all of the defendants. Engoron ordered Trump to pay $453.5 million of that figure.

Trump tried to appeal and post a $100 million bond instead, but a Feb. 28 ruling from the appellate court rejected it and ordered him to pay the full amount.

Engoron also barred Trump and his two sons from conducting business in the state, Trump for three years and his sons for two, according to the 92-page ruling.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alina Habba did not forget to check off a box for jury | Fact check