They Are Suing Trump and Fear Retaliation. A Judge Rules They Can Stay Anonymous for Now.

The New York Times
Published on:
December 21, 2018
President Trump at a bill signing ceremony in Washington on Thursday. A judge has ruled that four people who are suing him may remain anonymous for now, based on fear of retaliation. Credit: Tom Brenner for The New York Times

When four people sued President Trump and the Trump Organization, accusing them of using the Trump name to entice vulnerable investors to enter sham business schemes, the plaintiffs took the highly unusual step of asking a judge for permission to proceed under pseudonyms.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, who are listed in the lawsuit with names like Jane Doe and Richard Roe, said in court papers that their clients feared retaliation if their names became public. The lawyers cited Mr. Trump’s “history of wielding his wealth, stature and Twitter account to attack people whom he perceives to be his enemies,” including people who sue him.

On Thursday, the judge, Lorna G. Schofield of Federal District Court in Manhattan, agreed with them, ruling that the plaintiffs could keep their names concealed for now, as their lawsuit moved forward.

“The manner in which the president has used his position and platform to affect the course of pending court cases,” Judge Schofield said, “is really without precedent.”

“Whether instigated by him or by his supporters,” she added, “the harms at issue here are not hypothetical. They are real, significant and present an unwarranted obstacle to those who would seek to vindicate their rights in federal court.”

The four plaintiffs have been described in court papers as a hospice worker, a self-employed formerly homeless man, a food delivery driver and a mother of three who works at a national retail store. Each invested in ACN, a telecommunications marketing company, after watching promotional videos featuring Mr. Trump, the suit said. The company paid Mr. Trump millions to endorse its products.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, alleged ACN was one of several get-rich-quick schemes that Mr. Trump promoted as legitimate business opportunities “to enrich themselves by systematically defrauding economically marginalized people.”

The suit, filed in late October just days before the midterm elections, was underwritten by a nonprofit, the Tesseract Research Center, whose chairman has donated to Democratic candidates. The center is funding the lawsuit by paying attorneys’ fees and costs, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have said. The suit also names as defendants three of Mr. Trump’s children — Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump.

Judge Schofield said her ruling would allow the plaintiffs to proceed confidentially until she ruled on a defense motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which could be months away. She said the plaintiffs could renew their request at that time.

A plaintiff’s lawyer, Roberta A. Kaplan, said, “We are pleased that the court, recognizing the reasonableness of our clients’ fears of reprisal by defendants and their supporters, has permitted the plaintiffs to proceed under pseudonyms for the time being.”

A lawyer for the defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. After the suit was filed, a lawyer for the Trump Organization called the allegations completely meritless and said the suit was “just another effort by opponents of the president to use the court system to advance a political agenda.”

In court papers filed recently, lawyers for the defendants denied that identifying the plaintiffs would pose a risk of retaliation to them, and said it was “inherently unfair” to allow them to proceed anonymously.

“Mr. Trump is, after all, the sitting president of the United States,” the lawyers wrote, “and when such scurrilous allegations are made against him in a publicly filed lawsuit, the public has a profound interest in knowing who is making the allegations, so that it can assess the accuracy of what is being alleged and inform itself as to the credibility of the accuser.”


Read this at the New York Times.

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