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Jewish lawyer who won assault case against Trump warns of imperiled democracy in Israel and the U.S.

Roberta Kaplan, who represented E. Jean Carroll in her suit against Donald Trump, referred to the judicial overhaul plan as ‘the mishegas going on in Israel’  

Roberta Kaplan, the Jewish lawyer who helped E. Jean Carroll successfully sue former President Donald Trump for sexual assault and defamation, warned Thursday against attacks on the judicial system, “both here and in Israel.”

Kaplan, at a lunch hosted by the New York-based American Friends of the Hebrew University in Manhattan, using the Yiddish word for crazy, referred to the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul plan as “the mishegas going on in Israel.”  

The proposal, which has been suspended following a political and economic crisis and mass protests, would give lawmakers unprecedented power to appoint judges and to overturn Supreme Court decisions with a one-vote majority.

If the plan passes, it could bring about “a sense of hopelessness, of passivity, even of cynicism” that could lead to some people saying  that”there’s no point in supporting Israel anymore if it’s no longer going to be a democracy.” For that reason, she said, it’s important to support Israeli institutions “that help to create and nurture the foundations of democracy.”

Kaplan is best known as the lead attorney who argued for marriage equality and against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) at the Supreme Court in 2013. The court agreed that gay marriage is constitutional. A founding partner at the Kaplan Hecker & Fink law firm, she also co-founded the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which marshalled the case against the organizers of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

In Carroll’s case, a federal jury earlier this month awarded her $5 million. Trump denied that he sexually assaulted Carroll or defamed her and is appealing.

American Friends of the Hebrew University, which is based in Jerusalem, presented Kaplan with the “George A. Katz Torch of Learning Award,” which the group also awarded to Audrey Strauss, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, for the impact of their work in the legal profession and society.

Roberta Kaplan (L) and Audrey Strauss (R) at the American Friends of the Hebrew University luncheon on May 18, 2023. Photo by Hechler Photography

In her remarks, Kaplan described the U.S. justice system as “paramount to the foundation and survival of our democracy” after quoting Trump’s defense attorney in the assault case, Joe Tacopina, who said at the outset of the trial that the rule of law is “the bedrock” of our country.

“While Joe Tacopina and I didn’t agree on all that much in the E. Jean Carroll case, we definitely agree on that,” she said. She said the failure to apply general ethical standards to Supreme Court justices is equally “crucial in our democracy.”

The high court has recently come under fire for ethical lapses, including allegations that Justice Clarence Thomas wrongfully accepted generous gifts from a GOP megadonor.

“It’s kind of hard to believe that these issues are the subject of debate in 2023,” Kaplan said. “But they are — both here and in Israel. It is our job, as lawyers who understand how much this all means, to protect the ‘soul of democracy,’ both here and in Israel.” 

This post was updated to correctly quote Kaplan that the judicial overhaul plan can lead others to give up on their support for Israel. 

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