New York Trump fraud trial judge extends gag order, citing threats against his office

Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s attorney Christopher Keyes argues with Judge Arthur Engoron during the Trump Organization’s civil fraud trial in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., November 3, 2023 in this sketch by the courtroom.

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

A New York judge ruled Friday that a limited gag order against Donald Trump should apply to his lawyers, citing their remarks about his staff and the stream of threats and harassment that have “flooded” his cameras since the trial began for fraud against the former president.

“The threat of and actual violence resulting from heated political rhetoric is well documented,” Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron wrote in a scathing court order Friday afternoon.

“My cameras have been flooded with hundreds of harassing and threatening phone calls, voicemails, emails, letters and packages” since the trial began, Engoron wrote.

The restraining order prohibits attorneys in the case from making any public statements, in or out of court, that refer to any confidential communications between the judge and his staff.

“The First Amendment right of defendants and their attorneys to comment on my staff is far less important than the need to be protected from threats and physical harm,” he wrote.

Engoron had previously imposed a similar gag order on Trump after the former president shared a post on social media attacking the judge’s chief justice.

Trump has violated that order twice since the trial began last month.

Engoron’s latest order singled out two of Trump’s lawyers, Christopher Kise and Alina Haba, for making “repeated, inappropriate remarks” about his official.

They “falsely accused her of bias against them and undue influence over the ongoing legal process,” Engoron wrote.

Lawyers have repeatedly complained about the judge’s communication with his clerk during the trial, including the passing of notes from her during the trial. But the judge rejected their suggestion that it constituted an appearance of impropriety.

“These arguments have no merit,” he wrote.

Engoron angrily reprimanded Kise in open court on Thursday after the lawyer became alarmed by the notes being passed around.

“Sometimes I think there might be a bit of misogyny in the fact that you keep referring to my female chief legal officer,” he told Kise.

“If there is any further mention of any of my staff,” he continued, he would consider extending the order.

But Kise continued, however, complaining that “there’s someone else sending you information very, very often.”

“I’m not a misogynist. I’m very happily married and have a 17-year-old daughter,” Kise added.

Friday’s order dictates that while attorneys can continue to contact his clerk to ask about scheduling and other matters related to the management of the trial, they can no longer make statements about internal communications made between the judge and his staff .

Violation of the order “will result in serious sanctions,” he added.

The referee has already demonstrated his willingness to hand out punishments to those who break his rules. It fined Trump a total of $15,000 for twice violating the gag order that was imposed at the start of the case. Engoron even ordered Trump to take the stand to explain his remarks that led to his second offense.

Trump’s order simply prohibits him from attacking Engoron’s judicial staff. The former president is free to continue talking about the judge himself, as well as New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the massive civil suit.

James alleged that Trump, his two grown sons, the Trump Organization and others engaged in a decade-long scheme to inflate his net worth in order to receive various financial benefits, including tax breaks and better loan terms.

James is seeking about $250 million in damages and wants to bar the Trumps from operating any other businesses in New York.

Engoron has already found the defendants liable for fraudulently misrepresenting the values ​​of real estate and other assets in financial records. The trial will resolve six other claims asserted by James.

Trump is expected to be called to the stand Monday after testimony this week from his sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.

In the days leading up to the testimony, Trump Sr. frequently attacked Engoron as a biased and “Trump-hating” judge.

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