No, seriously, WHAT THE FUCK?
Yesterday, Alice Bianco, a former server at Trump’s Bedminster golf club, sued the club in New Jersey state court seeking to void a non-disclosure agreement she signed three years ago to settle a sexual harassment claim. She’s represented by Nancy Erika Smith, of Smith Mullin, the employment lawyer who secured a $20 million settlement for Gretchen Carlson from Roger Ailes and Fox News.
Bianco alleges that she began working at the Trump club in May of 2021, as a 21-year-old, and was sexually harassed and coerced into quid pro quo sex with the food and beverage manager, Pavel Melichar. In July of that year, multiple women informed “a member of Donald Trump’s personal staff” in writing about Melichar’s behavior, and Bianco hired counsel to represent her in any resultant employment action.
On July 28, 2021, as the plaintiff was waiting tables on her morning shift, Trump’s current lawyer Alina Habba approached her:
Ms. Habba told Plaintiff that she “had heard” about what was going on and wanted to “help her”. Ms. Habba acted as if Ms. Bianco was her friend and that she [Habba] was very concerned about Plaintiff. Plaintiff told Ms. Habba the name of her lawyer. Rather than comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct (“R.P.C), specifically the prohibition on communicating with a person who is represented by counsel about the subiect of the representation while actively working on behalf of the interests of an adverse party. Habba encouraged Plaintiff to fire her lawyer, saying: “you know you can fire [Plaintiff’s lawyer at the time], right?”
After getting her cell phone number, Habba texted Bianco negative information about her then-counsel and “fomented distrust between Plaintiff and her lawyer, advising Ms. Bianco that she should simply ignore her lawyers’ texts, emails, and calls.” Within days, Bianco was unrepresented.
But the MPRE issue spotter was just getting started!
Calling herself a “neutral” third party, Habba offered to broker a settlement between “two really good friends,” i.e., Bianco and Donald Trump.
On August 5, Habba met Bianco in the parking lot of the club during her 15-minute lunch break:
When they met in the Ms. Habba’s car, Habba knew all about Plaintiff’s claims and alluded to facts that could be used to publicly embarrass Plaintiff, saying “you don’t want to go public with this, I’ve been raped, I can help you, I can protect you.” Ms. Habba told Plaintiff
that “attorneys want to take control from you” and that “with your past- maybe you can get [a paltry sum].” Ms. Habba said that all Ms. Bianco would have to do was sign a “simple” NDA and Habba would make sure that Plaintiff was “protected”.
On August 11, Bianco signed a non-disclosure agreement drafted by Habba and notarized by Habba’s law partner Michael Madaio, who also represents Trump. According to the complaint, Bianco neither reviewed the document before signing it nor was provided a copy afterwards. She alleges that she was “fraudulently induced” to sign the agreement, which described both parties as unrepresented and purported to be “prepared by a neutral attorney representing neither party.”
In exchange for a sum described as “paltry,” Bianco agreed to forfeit the entire settlement and pay liquidated damages of $1,000 per day if she discussed the sexual assault and harassment claims. The club’s general manager Dave Schutzenhofer countersigned the agreement, and the club paid the settlement.
Shortly after, Habba replaced Trump’s longtime attorney Mark Kasowitz as lead counsel in the E. Jean Carroll defamation suit.
As the complaint points out, under New Jersey’s Civil Rights law “A provision in any employment contract or settlement agreement which has the purpose or effect of concealing the details relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment (hereinafter referred to as a ‘non-disclosure provision’) shall be deemed against public policy and unenforceable against a current or former employee (hereinafter referred to as an ’employee’) who is a party to the contract or settlement.”
To make matters worse, Habba allegedly told Bianco that the entire settlement would be untaxed income. When Bianco went to file her taxes, she discovered that was not the case. After reaching out to Habba, she was rebuffed with a text saying “I can’t technically give you legal advice.”
All of which looks really, really bad. On the plus side, Habba is not a named defendant in this case. On the minus side, there are two full pages describing the New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct she’s alleged to have violated, and the plaintiff requests that the court refer Habba and Habba Madaio & Associates to the Office of Attorney Ethics.
Bianco would also like to have the NDA officially voided and an injunction on her former employer seeking to enforce it.
“Habba used the unethical silencing of my client, Ali Bianco, as a way to propel herself into Trump’s inner circle,” Smith told Politico. “Her behavior was predatory. Pretending to be ‘neutral’ when acting on behalf of one party is clearly unethical.”
“I always conduct myself ethically and acted no differently in this circumstance,” Habba told the Politico.
Of course, she is facing $1 million of sanctions in a Florida court after steering her client into a preposterous RICO lawsuit against Hillary Clinton, James Comey, and half of DC so … consider the source.