Former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen has settled a lawsuit with the namesake company of his former employer, ex-United States President Donald Trump, over an alleged $1.7m in unpaid legal fees.
Lawyers for Cohen and the Trump Organization announced on Friday that they had agreed on settlement terms in a video hearing with Manhattan Judge Joel Cohen.
Their decision comes three days before Cohen’s lawsuit, filed in 2019, was slated to go to trial in state court. Details of the agreement were not made public, but Michael Cohen said on Friday that the dispute “has been resolved in a manner satisfactory to all parties”.
The settlement concludes a civil lawsuit for Trump’s company as the former president, who is seeking the White House again in 2024, faces mounting legal woes, including criminal charges at the federal and state levels.
Cohen’s lawsuit over his legal bills, however, stood to give the former Trump ally a spotlight for his vocal criticisms of the ex-president. The trial was also expected to feature testimony from the former president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, as early as next week.
Cohen is set to play a central role next year, in March 2024, when the elder Trump faces state criminal charges for allegedly falsifying business records in a hush-money case involving an adult film star.
But the Trump legal team is expected to attack Cohen’s credibility in that case, citing the conflicts the former lawyer has had with the ex-president.
Disputed legal fees
Cohen claimed in his lawsuit that the Trump Organization had promised to pay his legal expenses and did so for a time, footing more than $1.7m in fees.
But, Cohen said, the company reneged after he began cooperating with federal prosecutors in investigations related to Trump’s business dealings in Russia, as well as the hush money allegations.
Cohen’s lawyers stopped representing him after the company stopped paying. His lawsuit said that harmed his ability to respond to the federal investigations.
In court papers, the Trump Organization disputed that it made certain promises and said it satisfied any obligations it did have.
The company also argued that Cohen’s involvement in the federal investigations was not an outgrowth of his former job but rather a personal decision to try to reduce his own criminal legal exposure as an indictment loomed.
While the former president would not have been a witness in the trial, Donald Trump Jr, who is a leader in the family business, was expected to testify.
Cohen under scrutiny
Like Trump, Cohen has faced legal jeopardy in recent years, stemming from his time as part of the ex-president’s inner circle.
In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including violations of campaign finance laws through excessive political contributions. The former lawyer had previously testified that Trump ordered him to make payments to two women, including adult film star Stormy Daniels, to allegedly buy their silence.
He also admitted to lying to Congress and banks to obtain financing, as well as tax evasion, concealing $4m in personal income.
He was sentenced to three years in prison, although he served nearly two-thirds of it at home, as he was released after the COVID-19 outbreak overwhelmed US prisons.
The former president has regularly questioned Cohen’s credibility to undermine the allegations against him, often referring to his former lawyer as a “jailbird” and a “serial liar”.
Trump has also sued Cohen, accusing him of violating a company confidentiality agreement, breaching ethical standards for lawyers and maliciously “spreading falsehoods” about Trump.
Ongoing legal troubles for Trump
While Friday’s settlement resolves the suit over Cohen’s legal expenses, a trial is set for October in New York Attorney General Letitia James’s business fraud lawsuit against Trump’s company and the former president himself.
Trump also faces a March trial date in the New York hush-money indictment, in which Cohen is set to serve as a key witness. His indictment last April made him the first president, current or former, to face criminal charges.
In addition, Trump became the first president in June to face federal criminal charges in a case surrounding his handling of classified documents after his departure from office. On Friday, a judge in Florida set a trial date in that case for May 2024.
He also disclosed this week that the justice department had told him he was a target of another federal investigation into efforts to unravel his loss in the 2020 presidential election – a notification that could signal forthcoming charges.
Trump also faces a probe in Georgia for attempting to interfere with the state’s 2020 election result. A court on Monday rejected his lawyers’ petition to block the investigation.
And the former president continues to face a civil defamation lawsuit from writer E Jean Carroll, who claimed he raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the 1990s.
In May, a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming Carroll in a separate civil suit, awarding her $5m.
He has denied wrongdoing in all the cases, claiming that he is being targeted politically. Criminal charges do not prevent Trump from running for president or serving a second term in the White House.