NATIONAL NEWS

New York judge issues limited gag order after Trump sends disparaging post about court clerk

Oct 3, 2023, 7:08 PM

Former President Donald Trump speaks as he arrives for the second day of his civil fraud trial at N...

Former President Donald Trump speaks as he arrives for the second day of his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on October 03, 2023 in New York City. Former President Trump may be forced to sell off his properties after Justice Arthur Engoron canceled his business certificates after ruling that he committed fraud for years while building his real estate empire after being sued by Attorney General Letitia James, who is seeking $250 million in damages. The trial will determine how much he and his companies will be penalized for the fraud. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — Rebuking Donald Trump, a state court judge imposed a limited gag order Tuesday in the former president’s civil business fraud trial and ordered him to delete a social media post that publicly maligned a key court staffer.

Judge Arthur Engoron told all participants in the case not to smear court personnel, warning of “serious sanctions” if they do.

“Personal attacks on members of my court staff are unacceptable, not appropriate, and I will not tolerate them,” Engoron said after complaining — without naming names — about a defendant’s ”disparaging, untrue and personally identifying post about a member of my staff.”

A few hours earlier, Trump had posted a photo of Engoron’s principal law clerk, Allison Greenfield, posing with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at a public event. Trump, the Republican front-runner for president in 2024, has repeatedly cast the trial as a political attack by New York’s Democratic attorney general, Letitia James.

Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform that it was “disgraceful” that Greenfield was working with the judge in the courtroom, adding to complaints he’d made outside court Monday.

The post apparently sparked a series of closed-door courtroom discussions, involving Trump and lawyers for both sides, during what’s usually a lunch break. By the time the gag order was issued, Trump had deleted the post — as Engoron ordered, according to the judge.

As for Schumer, a spokesperson called the post “pathetic” and said the senator doesn’t know Greenfield and is in photos with thousands of constituents.

Aside from that sideshow, James’ attorney questioned an accountant Tuesday in an effort to build the state’s case that Trump and others at his company had full control over the preparation of misleading and false financial statements at the heart of their case.

The state’s lawsuit alleges that Trump and his business chronically lied about his wealth on financial statements given to banks, insurers and others.

Also Tuesday, Engoron set the record straight about a comment that the ex-president had touted as an important victory.

The judge had suggested on Monday that testimony about Trump’s 2011 financial statement might be beyond a 2014 time limit for claims in this case. Trump’s legal team has argued that the time limit cuts off most of the claims.

But Engoron ruled last week that all the claims were allowable under the statute of limitations, and he made clear Tuesday that the trial isn’t “an opportunity to relitigate what I have already decided.” He said that at the trial’s early stage, he’s inclined to give both sides considerable leeway to connect older evidence to claims in the lawsuit.

Trump denies any wrongdoing and again branded the case “a scam” on Tuesday.

He and lawyers have said his financial statements were legitimate representations of the worth of unique luxury properties, made even more valuable because of their association with him. The defense also emphasizes that the financial statements bore disclaimers saying that they weren’t audited and that others “might reach different conclusions” about his financial position if they had more information.

Accountant Donald Bender continued testifying Tuesday about his years preparing those statements from figures that Trump’s company supplied.

In some years, he said, the Trump Organization failed to provide all documents necessary for producing the statements, despite attesting in letters to the accounting firm that it had provided all financial records and hadn’t “knowingly withheld” relevant data.

“They were not giving all of the documents that we needed,” Bender testified, explaining that “there were certain appraisals out there for a number of years that we had never seen.”

During cross-examination, Bender acknowledged he missed a change in information about the size of the former president’s penthouse at Trump Tower.

Defense lawyer Jesus M. Suarez seized on that, telling Bender that Trump was sitting through the trial and his company and employees were “going through hell” because “you missed it.”

Bender said he couldn’t be faulted.

“We didn’t screw it up. The Trump Organization made a mistake, and we didn’t catch it,” he said.

After the session ended with another closed-door discussion among Trump, James and their lawyers, Trump emerged saying that he’d be back for a third day Wednesday.

Trump plans to testify later in the trial, but he doesn’t have to attend it now. While grumbling that he’d rather be on the campaign trail, he has used the waiting cameras in a courthouse hallway as a microphone for political messaging.

James scored an early victory when Engoron, a Democrat, ruled last week that Trump committed fraud by exaggerating the size of his Trump Tower apartment, claiming his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida was worth as much as $739 million and putting similar oversized valuations on office towers, golf courses and other assets.

The non-jury trial concerns six remaining claims in the lawsuit and how much Trump might owe in penalties. James is seeking $250 million and a ban on Trump doing business in New York. The judge has already ruled that some of Trump’s companies should be dissolved as punishment.

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New York judge issues limited gag order after Trump sends disparaging post about court clerk