New York high court denies Trump appeal of fraud case gag order

New York high court denies Trump appeal of fraud case gag order

New York’s top court has dismissed former President Trump’s appeal of a gag order imposed in his civil fraud trial, which came to a close last week.

The New York Court of Appeals tossed the challenge because it involved no “substantial constitutional question,” according to a Tuesday court filing. Trump’s legal team had argued that the former president’s speech was unlawfully restricted by the rule.

Judge Arthur Engoron imposed the gag order in October, barring Trump and his counsel from making comments about the trial judge’s staff. The order followed a post Trump made on his Truth Social account falsely deriding Engoron’s principal law clerk as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) “girlfriend” that included personally identifying information about her.

A Schumer spokesperson called the post “ridiculous, absurd, and false” in a statement to The Hill at the time.

After that, Engoron’s law clerk became an unwitting main character in the former president’s fraud trial. Trump and his lawyers accused her of acting as a “co-judge” in the case, which Engoron forcefully denied. The clerk played an active role in the trial, passing notes to and whispering with the judge.

The ruling put Trump and his counsel at odds with Engoron, who repeatedly told them that attacks on his staff are “not appropriate” and won’t be tolerated “under any circumstance.” The judge at one point went so far as to unexpectedly calling Trump to the witness stand to explain himself for a comment the judge believed was about the clerk.

In November, a lower appeals court reinstated Engoron’s order. Trump’s counsel had argued in their request to eliminate it that the trial judge’s enforcement of the rule “casts serious doubt” on his ability to serve as an “impartial finder of fact” overseeing the former president’s case.

The purported bias of the judge and his clerk was also the basis of a mistrial motion filed by Trump’s counsel, which claimed the judge and his clerk “tainted” the trial with bias against Trump. Engoron denied the motion, calling it “utterly without merit.”

Attacks against Engoron or New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), who sued Trump and his business in 2022, are not barred by the order. When Trump testified in the trial, he berated them as “Trump haters,” “frauds” and “political hacks.”

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Trump also took aim online at Engoron’s wife and son, neither disallowed by the gag order.

James claims Trump, his business and several top executives — including Trump’s adult sons — falsely inflated and deflated the value of the business’s assets to receive lower taxes and better insurance coverage.

The trial ended last week with closing arguments, where Trump’s lawyers argued that “not one witness” testified to the widespread fraud alleged by the state and the state argued that the defendants’ intent to defraud is evidenced by a paper trail.

The attorney general’s office has asked Engoron to force Trump to pay a nearly $370 million penalty and to block him from New York’s real estate business for life.

Engoron said he hopes to issue a decision in the case by the end of the month.

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