Shropshire Star

Judge confirms Trump fine over out-of-court comment

Donald Trump had claimed was talking not about the clerk but about his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.

Trump Fraud Lawsuit

A judge has reaffirmed Donald Trump’s 10,000 dollar (£8,260) fine over an out-of-court comment during the ex-president’s business fraud civil trial in New York.

Judge Arthur Engoron fined Mr Trump on Wednesday after finding that his comments to TV cameras outside the courtroom violated a limited gag order. It bars participants in the trial from commenting publicly on the judge’s staff.

Outside court on Wednesday, the Republican presidential front-runner complained that Judge 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”.

Those words came after one of Mr Trump’s lawyers had complained earlier that morning about the judge’s principal law clerk — the same one Mr Trump had disparaged weeks earlier in a social media post that prompted the gag order.

APTOPIX Trump Fraud Lawsuit
Former president Donald Trump is facing a civil fraud trial (Spencer Platt/Pool Photo via AP)

Summoned on Wednesday to the witness stand to explain his comment about the person “alongside” the judge, Mr Trump said he was talking not about the clerk but about his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who was testifying at the time.

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

Mr Trump’s lawyers insisted again on Thursday that Mr Trump was talking about Mr Cohen. Attorney Christopher Kise pointed out that right after Mr Trump’s reference to the person “sitting alongside” the judge, the former president said: “We are doing very well, the facts are speaking very loud. He is a totally discredited witness.”

Mr Kise argued that it meant the person “alongside” the judge was also Mr Cohen, and he asked Judge Engeron to rethink the fine.

Mr Kise also argued that if the judge maintained that the remark was indeed about the clerk, the fine would infringe on Mr Trump’s First Amendment rights.

“His business is being attacked, and he’s entitled to comment, fairly, on what he perceives in open court,” Mr Kise said.

Judge Engoron replied: “I don’t think it’s impinging on anybody’s First Amendment rights to protect my staff.” However, he agreed to examine the full remarks and reconsider the fine.

Trump Fraud Lawsuit
Michael Cohen gave evidence in the case (Seth Wenig/AP)

He subsequently decided to stand by it, citing “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,” Judge Engoron said.

The case involves a lawsuit that New York attorney general Letitia James filed last year against Mr Trump, his company and top executives. The Democratic attorney general said Mr Trump and his business chronically lied about his wealth on financial statements given to banks, insurers and others.

Before trial, Judge Engoron found that Mr Trump, chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and other defendants committed years of fraud with the financial statements.

The civil trial concerns allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records.

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

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