Judge lifts Trump gag order in $250 million New York business fraud case

Former U.S. President Donald Trump is questioned by Judge Arthur F. Engoron before being fined $10,000 for violating a gag order for a second time, during the Trump Organization civil fraud trial in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., October 25, 2023 in this courtroom sketch. 

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

A New York judge on Thursday temporarily suspended a gag order barring former President Donald Trump from commenting on court staff in his $250 million civil business fraud trial.

Associate Justice David Friedman of the New York Appellate Division’s First Department granted the request by Trump’s defense attorneys for an interim stay of the gag orders, citing the “constitutional and statutory rights at issue.”

The ruling lifts the gag orders that had been imposed on both Trump and the attorneys defending him in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ high-stakes fraud case in Manhattan Supreme Court.

James’ office had urged the appeals judge to deny Trump’s request, arguing that doing so could place the lower court’s staff “at risk of harassment or harm.”

Friedman’s terse ruling ordered James and Judge Arthur Engoron, who imposed the gag orders, to submit opposing briefs by Wednesday at noon. Trump’s lawyers must reply by the following Monday.

“Fortunately the Constitution and the First Amendment protect everyone, including President Trump,” defense attorney Christopher Kise said in a statement to CNBC.

“The public will again have full access to what is really taking place in this unprecedented trial,” Kise added.

James’ lawsuit accuses Trump, his two adult sons, the Trump Organization and top executives of falsely inflating the values of Trump’s assets to boost his net worth and reap financial benefits. She seeks $250 million in damages and wants to permanently bar Trump Sr., Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump from running a New York business.

Engoron had barred Trump from making public statements about his court staff on the second day of the trial, after Trump repeatedly targeted the judge’s principal law clerk.

A month later, on Nov. 3, Engoron extended that gag order to Trump’s attorneys, accusing them of making “repeated, inappropriate remarks” about the same law clerk. The judge noted that his chambers have been “inundated” with threats and harassment since the trial began.

Trump has already violated the narrow gag order twice, catching a total of $15,000 in fines.

The request to pause the gag orders came one day after Trump and his co-defendants asked for a mistrial in the case, arguing that Engoron and his clerk are biased and that their conduct has “tainted these proceedings.”

Limiting their ability to address their alleged issues “is simply not justifiable and certainly not consistent with the avoidance of an appearance of impartiality,” the defendants wrote.

James’ office slammed the “spurious allegations” in the mistrial bid earlier Thursday. Engoron has yet to respond in writing. The trial is expected to last until late December.

Trump, a top contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is fighting a separate gag order in his criminal election interference case in Washington, D.C., federal court.

That gag order barred Trump from making statements targeting the prosecutors, likely witnesses and court staff in the case. A federal appeals court temporarily paused the D.C. gag order earlier this month.

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