Judge scolds Trump lawyers, denies bid to toss fraud lawsuit

NEW YORK (AP) — A Manhattan judge on Friday scolded Donald Trump’s lawyers as he denied their bid to dismiss a lawsuit accusing the former president and his company of a yearslong fraud scheme.

Judge Arthur Engoron said lawyers for Trump and his Trump Organization “should have known better” than to recycle what he said were frivolous, meritless arguments in paperwork seeking the dismissal of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit.

Engoron criticized the Trump lawyers throughout his nine-page decision, even quoting baseball great Yogi Berra by writing that the bulk of their arguments — including Trump’s oft-repeated claim that the lawsuit was part of a politically motivated “witch hunt” — were “deja vu all over again.”

Engoron had threatened to punish the Trump lawyers, but he said after excoriating them in his decision that he had made his point.

The lawsuit, filed in September, alleges Trump and the Trump Organization misled banks and others about the value of prized assets, including golf courses and hotels bearing his name. James, a Democrat, is seeking $250 million and a permanent ban on Trump, a Republican, doing business in the state.

“Once again, Donald Trump’s attempts to evade the law have been rejected,” James said in a statement. “We sued Mr. Trump because we found that he engaged in years of extensive financial fraud to enrich himself and cheat the system. Today’s decision makes clear that Donald Trump is not above the law and must answer for his actions in court.”

Trump lawyer Alina Habba said they are planning to appeal Engoron’s ruling, just the latest he’s made against Trump or Trump-related interests while presiding over matters related to the lawsuit and an underlying investigation into his company.

Last year, Engoron held Trump in contempt and fined him $110,000 after he was slow to turn over documents. He also forced him to sit for a deposition with James’ investigators. In that testimony, Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination more than 400 times.

In November, Engoron said he was appointing an independent monitor “to ensure there is no further fraud” at the Trump Organization, restricting its ability to freely make deals, sell assets and change its corporate structure while the lawsuit is pending.

The Trump Organization was convicted of criminal tax fraud last month for helping executives dodge taxes on extravagant perks such as apartments and luxury cars.

The company is facing a potential $1.6 million fine and is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 13.