“I don’t really like a bully,” says Roberta Kaplan, explaining what drove her to become a lawyer – and is what is driving her now to sue Donald Trump and figures on the American far-right, even though it has led to multiple threats against her.
The 54-year-old rose to fame in 2013 with victory in the Supreme Court in the Edie Windsor case, in which it declared unconstitutional a federal law limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman.
The ruling paved the way for legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States in 2015.
Armed with this fame and multiple professional distinctions, the Harvard and Columbia graduate, whose wife is a Democratic activist, is now at the forefront of several legal battles against Trump.
Co-founder of the Time’s Up movement that provides legal aid to victims of sexual assault, Kaplan has sued Trump for defamation on behalf of former Elle magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll.
Carroll has said she was raped by Trump in a New York department store in the mid-1990s.
Trump denied the accusation, saying “she’s not my type” and calling Carroll a liar, which prompted the defamation suit.
Two friends that Carroll confided in at the time are expected to testify and Kaplan is confident her client will win.
Kaplan, a commercial litigation specialist, represents a group of plaintiffs who invested in a marketing company called “ACN” that they accuse Trump and his children of fraudulently promoting.
Kaplan also represents Trump’s niece Mary Trump, who accuses the former president and his brother and sister of depriving her of part of the family inheritance.
“In all these cases, Trump has acted like a terrible bully, quite frankly,” Kaplan told AFP in an interview over Zoom.
She says it will take “a lot of patience and stubbornness” to defeat the former president, adding “he’s willing and ready to use literally every trick in the book to stall and delay and play games.”
Beyond Trump, Kaplan is also leading the only civil action against the main neo-Nazis and white supremacists involved in the Charlottesville violence in August 2017.
The trial is scheduled to begin in October.
“I really wish that I had been wrong about seeing Charlottesville as I did — as a very scary and ominous warning of what was happening in this country and what was yet to come,” said Kaplan.
– Anti-Semitic attacks –
The January 6 assault on the US Capitol proved that the right-wing forces at work in Charlottesville “have continued to grow” and now represent “the single most significant threat to the security of our country,” she added.
They are a threat to her personal security too, with a private company providing her with daily reports on threats circulating against her on social networks.
“I’m an open lesbian, I’m a New Yorker. I’m a woman. I’m head of Time’s Up. There’s a lot of things that people outside might want to criticize me for.
“But the thing that’s been truly shocking to me is the vast majority of the statements they make is about the fact that I’m Jewish. They put up cartoons of me on the web that literally look like Nazi cartoons about Jews from the 1930s,” she said.
Other threats come from unlikely sources. As the one-time lawyer of Amber Heard, the ex-wife of actor Johnny Depp, Kaplan has felt the wrath of fans of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
The election of Joe Biden makes her optimistic about the future, though.
She says his administration is aware of the threat posed by domestic right-wing extremists.
“They (FBI agents) were very successful in infiltrating some of the jihadi terrorist groups after 9/11. It should be easier to infiltrate domestic American terrorist groups,” said Kaplan.