An attorney for the former president said the idea that he can't live at his private club, where they say he is also an owner-employee, were "silly"

By Virginia Chamlee
February 09, 2021 07:17 PM
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Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. Inset: Donald Trump.
| Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty. Inset: Zach Gibson - Pool/Getty

Attorneys for Palm Beach, Florida, and Donald Trump on Tuesday spoke in agreement to the town's council and mayor that the former president appears to be legally within his rights to reside at his private club, Mar-a-Lago.

The lawyers, along with those opposed to Trump making Mar-a-Lago his residence, presented their arguments at the day-long virtual meeting.

John C. Randolph, an attorney for the city of Palm Beach, argued that Trump, 74, can live at the club — despite a 1993 use agreement in which he promised that members would not stay at Mar-a-Lago for longer than seven days at a time (and even then, only three times per year). 

Pointing to the town's zoning code, which Randolph said allows that "a private club may provide living quarters for bona fide employees only," he said that an employee of a private club is defined as "any person generally working on site for the establishment ... and includes sole proprietors [and other owners]."

"I have been advised that former President Trump is indeed an employee under this definition," Randolph said.

A group of Palm Beach residents recently wrote to the town after reports that Trump and his family were preparing to move there from the White House after his term ended on Jan. 20.

Those residents pointed to the 1993 agreement signed by Trump after he converted the private residence to a business.

But that agreement, Randolph wrote in a recent memo to the council, "did not incorporate a direct prohibition on former President Trump residing at the Club."

That's because, as Randolph said Tuesday, the town's zoning code permits him to reside at the club "if he is a bona fide employee."

However, Randolph's memo also cites remarks made by one of Trump's attorneys during a May 1993 meeting of the town council in which the attorney specifically said Trump had no intention of living at Mar-a-Lago once it was converted to a club from a private residence.

"Another question asked of him is whether or not Mr. Trump will continue to live at Mar-a-Lago and the answer is 'No,' except that he will be a member of the Club and would be entitled to use the guest rooms," the attorney said, according to Randolph's memo.

Mar-a-Lago Club
| Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty

John Marion, who told the council he had served as Trump's attorney for roughly 25 years, responded directly to those earlier comments in the Tuesday meeting, arguing that the plans for the club (and Trump's intent to live there) changed with time.

"The whole plan changed between [that meeting] and the eventual declaration used," he said. "The Declaration of Use agreement was entered into by the town, by Mar-a-Lago and by the owner, Donald J. Trump. And it was mutually agreed upon and there's not a single provision in there that says [Trump] can't reside in the owner's suite."

Calling the debate over the '93 agreement "silly," Marion went on to concur with Randolph that the town's zoning code "allows for [Trump] to live there."

Since leaving the White House, Marion said that Trump is now back to serving as the president of Mar-a-Lago and is therefore an employee in the legal sense.

"He's now back at the property, he oversees the property, evaluates the performance of employees, suggests improvements to the operation of the club, greets members and guests," and performs other duties typical of an owner, Marion said.

He also shared his screen at the virtual council meeting to show a Jan. 25 limited liability document that identifies Trump as president of the Mar-a-Lago Club, Inc.

"He's very active on the property," Marion said. "This guy — as he wanders the property — is like the owner of the town of Mar-a-Lago. He's ever-present and he loves it there."

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Speaking briefly on behalf of the neighbors who have argued that Trump should not live at the club, attorney Reginald Stambaugh said his clients "urged the town council to uphold the 1993 agreement," saying that they purchased their home after it was put in place "with the reasonable expectation that this contract would be honored and enforced by the town."

In addition to concerns regarding the use agreement, others voiced very different concerns, alluding to the recent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which led to Trump's impeachment by the House of Representatives shortly before he left office.

Philip Johnston, retained to represent Preserve Palm Beach (a group that appears to be registered as a political committee with the state) expressed concerns in the Tuesday meeting that establishing a Trump residence — and, potentially, a post-presidential office — at the club would turn Mar-a-Lago into "a beacon for his more rabid, lawless supporters."