By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawyer for Donald Trump said on Monday a possible conflict of interest involving the judge who oversaw E. Jean Carroll's recent defamation trial may justify overturning the writer's $83.3 million award.
In a letter filed in federal court in Manhattan, the lawyer Alina Habba cited a Jan. 27 New York Post article discussing U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan's alleged prior working relationship with Carroll's lawyer Roberta Kaplan, who is not related.
Both worked about two years at the same time at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in the early 1990s, before Judge Kaplan was appointed to the federal bench in 1994.
The article quoted an unnamed former Paul Weiss partner who said Roberta Kaplan sought to distinguish herself, like all associates, and Judge Kaplan had been "like her mentor."
Habba said this "particularly concerning" matter could justify a new trial on liability and damages, which the judge's "overtly hostile" treatment of Trump's side and "preferential" treatment of Carroll's side could also support.
Trump plans to appeal last Friday's $83.3 million verdict, which stemmed from his June 2019 denials that he raped Carroll in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in the mid-1990s.
Judge Kaplan's chambers did not immediately respond to a request for comment after business hours.
Spokespeople for Carroll and Roberta Kaplan did not immediately respond to similar requests, but one spokesperson told the Post that no conflict existed. Paul Weiss also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Habba's letter cited among other things the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges.
The code says judges shall disqualify themselves from cases where their impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including when "a lawyer with whom the judge previously practiced law served during such association as a lawyer concerning the matter."
Carroll's $83.3 million verdict included $18.3 million of compensatory damages and $65 million of punitive damages.
A different jury last May awarded the former Elle magazine advice columnist $5 million, finding Trump liable for a similar October 2022 defamation and for sexual abuse.
Trump is appealing that verdict. The first jury's findings were binding for the second trial, leaving the jury there to focus only on damages.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Stephen Coates)