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Who is Trump's trial lawyer Alina Habba?

Trump and Habba at a news conference
Trump and Habba at a news conference

One of the most striking elements to emerge from Donald Trump's defamation trial has been the frequent clashes between his lawyer, Alina Habba, and the seasoned judge who has at times questioned her understanding of the law.

At 39 years old, Ms Habba has risen from a little-known litigator to representing the former president of the United States in some of his most personally perilous cases.

A New Jersey native, she was born to two Chaldean Catholics who fled persecution in Iraq in the early 1980s.

After graduating from university, she took a job in the fashion industry, working at Marc Jacobs - one of America's premier brands.

She returned to college after several years in the industry, earning her law degree from Widener University, a small school in Pennsylvania, in 2010.

Ms Habba briefly served as a clerk for then-New Jersey Superior Court Judge Eugene Codey Jr, before entering private practice, where she worked for several years before starting her own firm in 2020.

Then enter Donald Trump.

The mother-of-three joined his legal team in 2021 after reportedly meeting him at his country club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where her law firm is also based.

The former president, still seething after his defeat in the 2020 election and facing a mounting pile of lawsuits, plucked her from her relatively small law firm to serve as his most high-profile lawyer.

Since then, Ms Habba has risen to public prominence, emerging as - more than any of the ex-president's other representatives - his most vocal defender.

She quickly earned praise from the billionaire after her work for him led Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos to drop her sexual assault case.

She also represented Mr Trump in his $100m (£79m) lawsuit against the New York Times and his niece Mary Trump, and is currently defending him in the civil fraud case brought by the New York attorney general against him and his children.

Alina Habba
Alina Habba

At the civil lawsuit brought by E Jean Carroll - who Mr Trump was found to have assaulted in the 1990s - Ms Habba frequently quarrelled with Judge Lewis Kaplan.

The judge went so far as to threaten her with jail time during closing arguments in the case, when she tried to introduce social media tweets that were not already in evidence.

After a fiery back-and-forth, Judge Kaplan warned: "Ms Habba, you are on the verge of spending some time in the lock-up, now sit down".

That was not the first time he reprimanded Ms Habba for failing to correctly introduce evidence, calling a recess at one point and advising her to "refresh your memory about how it is you get a document into evidence".

The judge also repeatedly told her to "sit down" or keep quiet during opposing counsel's arguments, throughout the case, and also admonished her for not getting out of her chair while addressing the court.

He questioned whether she grasped the meaning of "none", as well.

As he denied her request to postpone a court date for Mr Trump to attend the funeral of his mother-in-law, Judge Kaplan informed her he would "hear no further argument on it."

She continued to object until he snapped: "None. Do you understand that word?"

Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer during the Trump administration, told CNN that her "shocking" behaviour in the courtroom was unlikely to help her client's case or earn any points with the judge.

"Embarrassing. That's not the type of lawyering that he's used to seeing and that frustrates him," he said, describing her work as "minor league".

She has clashed with other jurists too, labelling Judge Arthur Engoron - the veteran 74-year-old overseeing Mr Trump's fraud case in New York - "unhinged".

Not that her demeanour has troubled Mr Trump, who lavished her with praise after she managed to get his former fixer, Michael Cohen, to admit he had previously committed perjury on the stand.

Since emerging as his chief legal aide, Ms Habba has been drawn more deeply into Mr Trump's orbit. She has been known to make frequent appearances at his clubs in New Jersey and Florida.

For her birthday in February, she posted a photo of herself seated beside her cake with Mr Trump.

"Starting this year off with amazing patriots at the rally in Texas and the greatest President of all time #45 soon to be #47," Ms Habba wrote on Instagram. "The man golfed, went to Texas, crushed his speech and still made time to make sure I had birthday cake."

She is also a senior advisor for MAGA Inc, the political action committee supporting Mr Trump's re-election. According to ABC News, she has been paid over $3.5m for her work for the group.