- E. Jean Carroll's rape lawsuit against former President Donald Trump goes to trial next week.
- A federal judge sealed documents related to whether billionaire Reid Hoffman funded Carroll's suit.
- Trump's legal team plans to oppose the move.
A federal judge agreed to seal material related to whether billionaire and prominent Democratic party donor Reid Hoffman is bankrolling a rape lawsuit against former President Donald Trump.
In an unexplained order on Friday, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan agreed with a request from a lawyer for plaintiff E. Jean Carroll to keep a batch of documents under seal, as well as all future filings and hearings about the issue.
"The interest in public access here is minimal, particularly given that the parties' previous on-the-record filings already afforded the public meaningful access to information about this otherwise irrelevant and tangential topic," Carroll's lawyer Roberta Kaplan wrote, adding that some files may be protected by attorney-client privilege.
Alina Habba, an attorney representing Trump in the lawsuit, told Insider she would oppose the decision.
In 2019, Carroll, a writer and longtime Elle advice columnist, publicly accused Trump of raping her in a Bergdorf Goodman's department store changing room in the 1990s. Trump denied the allegations and called Carroll a liar, leading to Carroll filing a defamation lawsuit against him, which remains pending, and a later battery lawsuit, which is scheduled to begin trial next week in Manhattan federal court.
Lawyers for Trump had repeatedly sought to delay the case, to no avail.
On April 13, Habba asked Judge Kaplan (who is not related to Carroll's lawyer) again to delay the trial and reopen the discovery process in the case. Carroll's legal team, Habba said, had disclosed that a nonprofit funded by Hoffman — a founder and former executive chairman of LinkedIn — had contributed money to Kaplan's law firm. The funding, Habba argued, was "particularly relevant in the instant matter given the political overtones of this case" and Trump's current campaign in the 2024 presidential race.
In a dueling court filing, Roberta Kaplan said that her firm was paid on a contingency basis for the lawsuit. Funding from Hoffman's nonprofit, American Future Republic, was used only to pay "certain costs and fees in connection with the firm's work on Carroll's behalf." Carroll didn't personally communicate with the nonprofit organization or its financial supporters, Kaplan said.
"The resources that Ms. Carroll's counsel were able to secure obviously have nothing to do with what happened at Bergdorf Goodman and whether Donald Trump lied about Ms. Carroll starting in June 2019 when this dispute began," Kaplan wrote.
The judge nonetheless permitted Trump's lawyers to ask Carroll more deposition questions about whether she knew about the funding — a question that he said could be relevant to jurors evaluating her credibility — but refused to push back the trial.
Judge Kaplan's deadline for additional discovery passed earlier this week. Carroll's attorney on Friday filed several documents related to the issue, along with her now-approved request to seal them.
The trial, which is expected to last about a week, is scheduled to begin jury selection on Tuesday.
Trump's attorneys haven't yet said whether the former president will attend the trial, and Judge Kaplan isn't forcing him to. The judge did, however, deny a request from Trump's lawyers to tell jurors that he was excused from showing up because of logistical and security arrangements related to his appearance in downtown Manhattan.
"The Court notes from Mr. Trump's campaign web site and media reports that he announced earlier this week that he will speak at a campaign event in New Hampshire on April 27, 2023, the third day of the scheduled trial in this case," the judge wrote in a Thursday order. "If the Secret Service can protect him at that event, certainly the Secret Service, the Marshals Service, and the City of New York can see to his security in this very secure federal courthouse."