Judge reconsiders but keeps Trump’s $10,000 fine for gag order violation in NY civil fraud trial

Oct 26, 2023, 8:26 AM

Former President Donald Trump waits for the continuation of his civil business fraud trial at New Y...

Former President Donald Trump waits for the continuation of his civil business fraud trial at New York Supreme Court, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, in New York. (Spencer Platt/Pool Photo via AP)

(Spencer Platt/Pool Photo via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York judge reaffirmed Thursday a $10,000 fine he’d imposed on Donald Trump over an out-of-court comment that the former president made during his civil business fraud trial.

The development came after Trump’s lawyers urged Judge Arthur Engoron to rethink the penalty. The judge fined Trump on Wednesday after finding that his comments to TV cameras outside the courtroom violated a gag order that bars participants in the trial from commenting publicly on the judge’s staff.

Outside court Wednesday, the Republican presidential front-runner complained that Engoron, a Democrat, is “a very partisan judge with a person who’s very partisan sitting alongside of him, perhaps even much more partisan than he is.”

The comment came weeks after Engoron imposed the gag order in the wake of a Trump social media post that disparaged the judge’s principal law clerk. She sits next to Engoron, and Trump’s lawyers had groused a bit earlier about the clerk’s facial expressions and role in the case.

Summoned Wednesday to the witness stand to explain his comment, Trump said he was talking not about the clerk but about witness Michael Cohen — his former lawyer and fixer who was testifying against him at the time.

On Wednesday, Engoron called Trump’s contention “not credible,” noting that the clerk is closer to him than is the witness stand.

Trump’s lawyers insisted anew Thursday that Trump was talking about Cohen. They pointed out that right after his reference to the person “sitting alongside” the judge, Trump said: “We are doing very well, the facts are speaking very loud. He is a totally discredited witness” — a reference to Cohen.

Trump lawyer Christopher Kise argued that it meant the person “alongside” the judge was also Cohen. “To me, the ‘he’ in that sentence is referring to the person in the immediately preceding sentence,” Kise said.

Engoron agreed to look at the entirety of the remarks and reconsider the penalty.

About an hour later, he said he was standing by the fine, pointing to what he called “a brief but clear transition” between the mention of the person “alongside” the judge and the comment about the “discredited witness.”

“That was, to me, a clear transition from one person to another, and I think the person originally referred to was my clerk,” Engoron said.

Trump attended the trial for two days this week, but wasn’t in court on Thursday.

The case involves a lawsuit that New York Attorney General Letitia James filed last year against Trump, his company and top executives. She alleges Trump and his business chronically lied about his wealth on financial statements given to banks, insurers and others. Trump denies any wrongdoing.

In a pretrial ruling last month, Engoron found that Trump, chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and other defendants committed years of fraud by exaggerating the value of Trump’s assets and net worth on his financial statements.

As punishment, Engoron ordered that a court-appointed receiver take control of some Trump companies, putting the future oversight of Trump Tower and other marquee properties in doubt. An appeals court has blocked enforcement of that aspect of Engoron’s ruling, at least for now.

The civil trial concerns allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. James is seeking $250 million in penalties and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.

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Judge reconsiders but keeps Trump’s $10,000 fine for gag order violation in NY civil fraud trial