The unexpected walkout occurred when lawyer for E Jean Carroll asked jurors to decide how much Trump owes the plaintiff.
Former United States President Donald Trump stormed out of closing arguments at his defamation trial as a lawyer for E Jean Carroll urged a jury to award at least $24m in damages for the “storm of hate” caused by Trump.
Carroll, 80, is seeking at least $10m for Trump’s having defamed her in June 2019, when he was in the White House, by denying her claim that he had raped her in the mid-1990s. She said Trump’s comments caused her to be subjected to four and a half years of continuous attacks, including death threats.
In her closing arguments at the Manhattan federal court on Friday, Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan urged jurors to punish Trump for persistently lying about her client, and destroying her reputation as a truth-telling journalist.
“We all have to follow the law,” Kaplan said. “Donald Trump, however, acts as if these rules and laws just do not apply to him.
“This trial is about getting him to stop, once and for all,” she added. “Now is the time to make him pay for it dearly.”
Just minutes after Kaplan began her argument, Trump suddenly rose from his seat at the defence table and walked toward the exit, pausing to scan the packed courtroom as members of the Secret Service leaped up to follow him out.
His unexpected departure prompted Judge Lewis A Kaplan, not related to Carroll’s lawyer, to speak up, briefly interrupting the closing argument to note: “The record will reflect that Mr Trump just rose and walked out of the courtroom.”
Later, Trump returned to the courtroom to hear his lawyer Alina Habba argue that Trump should not be made to pay Carroll for comments that set off hate messages from strangers.
Habba showed the jury a video in which Trump said a jury’s verdict last year finding that he had sexually abused Carroll was “a disgrace” and “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time”.
“You know why he has not wavered?” Habba asked the jury. “Because it’s the truth.”
The jury will now consider what level, if any, to award compensatory damages and punitive damages, intended to deter repeat defamation.
‘Trump is not a victim’
Trump, a Republican, is seeking to retake the White House in the November election in a likely showdown against Democrat and current President Joe Biden, who beat him in 2020.
The race is expected to be close even though Trump faces 91 felony counts in four criminal indictments, including two cases accusing him of trying to illegally overturn his 2020 election loss.
He has tried to make his legal travails a campaign asset, calling himself a victim of biased prosecutors and an unfair judicial system.
Carroll’s legal team urged jurors to ignore that.
“This isn’t a campaign rally,” Shawn Crowley, another lawyer for Carroll, said after Habba spoke.
“Donald Trump is not the victim. This is her [Carroll’s] life. Help her take it back.”
Jurors in the current trial will decide only how much Trump owes Carroll for harming her reputation, and whether to impose punitive damages to stop him from defaming her again.
A damages expert testified that the reputational harm alone was $7.3m to $12.1m.
Lawyer Roberta Kaplan added that an “unusually high” punitive damages award might also be needed to deter Trump, a billionaire.
“While Donald Trump may not care about the law, while he certainly does not care about truth, he does care about money,” she said.