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Judge in Trump NY fraud trial extends gag order, cites threats to his office

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

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

A New York judge ruled Friday that a limited gag order on Donald Trump should also apply to his attorneys, citing their remarks about his staff and the deluge of threats and harassment that have “inundated” his chambers since the former president’s fraud trial began.

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

“The First Amendment right of defendants and their attorneys to comment on my staff is far and away outweighed by the need to protect them from threats and physical harm,” Engoron wrote.

The gag order bars attorneys in the case from making any public statements, in or out of court, that reference any and all confidential communications between the judge and his staff.

Engoron had previously imposed a similar gag order on Trump, after the former president shared a social media post attacking the judge’s principal law clerk.

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

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

They have been “falsely accusing her of bias against them and of improperly influencing the ongoing bench trial,” Engoron wrote.

The attorneys have repeatedly complained about the judge’s communications with his clerk during the trial, including her passing of notes to him during the proceedings. But the judge rejected their suggestion that doing so constitutes an appearance of impropriety.

“These arguments have no basis,” he wrote.

While the attorneys can keep referencing his clerk to ask about scheduling and other trial management issues, they can no longer make statements about internal messages made between the judge and his staff.

“Since the commencement of this bench trial, my chambers have been inundated with hundreds of harassing and [threatening] phone calls, voicemails, emails, letters, and packages,” Engoron wrote.

Violating the gag order “shall result in serious sanctions,” he added.

The judge has already demonstrated his willingness to dole out punishments for those who break his rules. He has fined Trump a total of $15,000 for twice violating the gag order that was imposed early in the case. Engoron even ordered Trump to the witness stand to explain his remarks that led to his second violation.

Trump’s order merely bars him from attacking Engoron’s court staff. The former president is free to continue sounding off about the judge himself, as well as New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the sweeping civil case.

James alleges a decade-long scheme by Trump, his two adult sons, the Trump Organization and others to inflate his net worth in order to get various financial perks, including tax benefits and better loan terms.

James seeks about $250 million in damages, and wants to bar the Trumps from running another New York business.

Engoron has already found the defendants liable for fraudulently misstating the values of real estate properties and other assets on financial records. The trial will resolve six other claims alleged by James.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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