Can Trump be held liable for the violence on January 6th at the Capitol? Ask the lawyer

Q: This is my first question: The NAACP and a member of Congress have filed a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump and Rudy Guliani accusing them of conspiring with extremist groups to block the presidential electoral vote count on Jan. 6, and are liable for the riot. Does that case have any chance of succeeding?

-H.D., Torrance

Can Trump be held liable for the violence on January 6th at the Capitol? Ask the lawyer Ron Sokol

A: The lawsuit says the defendants (Trump, Guiliani, the Proud Boys, and the Oath Keepers) shared a common goal “of employing intimidation, harassment, and threats” to stop the vote count, and that the riot was “a direct, intended, and foreseeable result” of the conspiracy. The gist of the case is that defendants violated federal law, and unspecified monetary damages are sought.

Presidents are immune from lawsuits over their official duties while in office, but a former president can be sued regarding conduct that was not part of his duties. Anticipated defenses to the lawsuit are that Trump was asserting his First Amendment right of speech, and that there is no actual proof he conspired with anyone.

As to how the case will play out presently is not possible to predict. There is hyperbole on both sides, and a lot of moving pieces. At least initially, there will likely be an attempt to have the case dismissed — based on legal ruling more so than facts, testimony and evidence. If the case is successful at the trial court level, appeal can be expected.

Bottom line, time will tell if the lawsuit is successful or not.

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Q: Second question: In the lawsuit filed against Trump and others, there’s reliance on the KKK Act. How does it apply?

-H.D., Torrance

A: The 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act is a federal statute that seeks to combat violence by the KKK, and to provide for civil action to go forward against those who use “force, intimidation, or threat” to prevent anyone from upholding the duties of their office. As such, it prohibits conspiracies and violence carried out to block Congress members from doing their jobs. It is not applicable just to the KKK.

Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach attorney with more than 35 years of experience. His column, which appears in print on Wednesdays, presents a summary of the law and should not be construed as legal advice. Email questions and comments to him at [email protected]

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