Lawyer Sues Trump, Saying He'd Rather Not

Mar 27, 2017
Originally published on March 27, 2017 10:33 am

What's it like to sue President Trump? For Jeffrey Lovitky, with a one-lawyer firm in Washington, D.C., it's not a great feeling.

"It is intimidating. I am intimidated," he said in an interview with NPR. "I mean, I would rather not be doing this."

But he has done it, and when he couldn't enlist anyone else to be the plaintiff, he took on that role, too.

"I think people are afraid to put their name out there on a lawsuit against the president," he said. "There is a sense that Donald Trump can be very difficult on people who oppose him."

So the case is Jeffrey A. Lovitky, attorney at law, v. Donald J. Trump, in his official capacity as President of the United States, filed in federal district court in Washington. It's one of 108 federal lawsuits naming Trump as a defendant since he took office Jan. 20.

Lovitky called Trump's ascension to the Oval Office "unprecedented," since Trump owns an international business empire and also will be "making the most critical decisions that will affect our country for years to come."

Lovitky said, "We need to know as much about his financial situation as we can."

Since 1990, Lovitky has been lawyering in the esoterica of government, a one-man law firm specializing in federal contracting law and health care. His office is a single room just large enough for a desk, a credenza, three bookcases and two chairs.

His lawsuits often name a Cabinet secretary as defendant, but Lovitky has never before sued a president.

When he decided to look into Trump, he focused on the president's personal financial disclosure, filed last May. Indeed, there was something wrong in the report.

It is supposed to disclose a candidate's personal liabilities, but not corporate liabilities, which it doesn't even ask for. Trump's report lists some corporate debt along with the personal, and it's impossible to tell which is which.

Odd, but not exactly Watergate.

"It's very possible it was just an error," Lovitky said. "May have been very well intentioned even."

But, he said, accidental or not, the report withholds from citizens something the law says they should have: an accounting of the president's personal liabilities.

He filed his lawsuit.

"That's all it means. It means insisting on compliance," he said.

Now that the suit is filed, Lovitky is preparing a brief for the expected counterattack: a motion to dismiss the case for lack of standing. If he can get over that hurdle, he could end up setting a precedent that ordinary Americans can sue to seek enforcement of federal ethics laws.

He said his decision to sue came from a sense of duty, saying: "You go back to the basic premise of what is each individual's civic responsibility? What do you owe?"

No date has been set for the White House to respond to the suit.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Since President Trump took office, he's been named as a defendant in more than a hundred lawsuits. Most of them involve immigration or civil rights issues. There is one that stands apart. Here's NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: There are lots of big, impressive law offices in D.C. The one-room setup of Jeffrey Lovitky isn't among them.

This is the law firm?

JEFFREY LOVITKY: (Laughter).

OVERBY: It's small.

He's got just enough space for a desk, a credenza, three bookcases and two chairs. I asked him about his lawsuit against President Trump.

You know, what's the point?

LOVITKY: Well - so we're in a situation now that is unprecedented.

OVERBY: Unprecedented because Donald Trump is president...

LOVITKY: The man who's making the most critical decisions that will affect our country for years to come.

OVERBY: ...While Trump also holds on to ownership of his international business empire.

LOVITKY: And we need to know as much about his financial situation as we can.

OVERBY: As a candidate, Trump had to disclose his personal finances. That includes personal liabilities. Oddly, though, Trump's disclosure also lists some of his corporate liabilities. You can't tell which is which.

LOVITKY: It's very possible it was just an error. It may have been very well-intentioned even.

OVERBY: But whatever the cause, the report is confusing. And that's why Lovitky filed suit.

LOVITKY: That's all it means. It means insisting on compliance.

OVERBY: Lovitky hopes his case might establish that ordinary Americans can act to enforce the federal ethics law. Lovitky makes his living going after federal agencies on contract disputes and health care issues. He's never sued a president before. For this case, he couldn't find a plaintiff.

LOVITKY: I think people are afraid to put their name out there on a lawsuit against the president. There is a sense that Donald Trump can be very difficult on people who oppose him.

OVERBY: So now he's the plaintiff.

LOVITKY: It is intimidating. I am intimidated. I mean, I would rather not be doing this.

OVERBY: He said it's his duty.

LOVITKY: You go back to the basic premise - what is each individual's civic responsibility? What do you owe?

OVERBY: Lovitky filed his lawsuit in federal district court here in Washington. No date has been set for the White House to respond.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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