Trial Judge Issues A Gag Order After Trump Launches Wild And False Attacks On His Court Clerk

Former President Donald Trump speaks as he returns from a short break during the second day of his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on October 03, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
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On the second day of his civil trial in New York City, former President Trump and his campaign let loose a series of false and inflammatory attacks on Arthur Engoron, the judge presiding over the case, and his court clerk. The barrage went beyond even what we have previously seen from Trump, who has had a habit of making incendiary statements about prosecutors and others while being involved in multiple court cases. 

Engoron responded with a gag order that specifically barred Trump from discussing the judge’s staff.

“Consider this statement a gag order forbidding all parties from posting emailing or speaking publicly about any of my staff,” Engoron said, according to the Guardian. “Personal attacks on members of my court staff are unacceptable, inappropriate and I will not tolerate them in any circumstances.

Engoron further said a violation of the order would result in “serious sanctions.” 

Trump’s wild series of attacks came as he and his lawyers were in Engoron’s courtroom. The former president is currently in the midst of four criminal prosecutions related to his efforts to stay in power, his handling of classified documents, and alleged hush money payments to cover up an affair. The former president’s comments have led federal prosecutors in the Jan. 6 case to seek a limited gag order due to what they have described as Trump’s “sustained campaign of prejudicial public statements” against witnesses and others involved in the trial. A judge is set to rule on that request later this month. 

The civil case in New York, which was brought by state Attorney General Letitia James, is related to alleged fraud connected to Trump’s real estate company. Among other things, James has accused the former president of inflating the value of his assets to secure favorable terms on loans. Trump, who denies any wrongdoing, has repeatedly attacked James, accusing her of unspecified corruption and of being “a terrible person.” After the trial began on Monday, Trump briefly spoke to reporters outside the court and declared to reporters that someone “ought to go after this attorney general.” 

James, Engoron, and the judge’s clerk did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Along with leading to potential sanctions and setbacks in the courtroom, Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric creates a clear danger of threats against others involved in the cases. A slew of prosecutors and judges have faced threats from Trump and his followers amid the extensive legal drama that followed efforts from the former president and his allies to falsely question the results of his 2020 election loss. The dangers have led to stepped up security measures at some of Trump’s trials. 

The barrage unleashed by Trump and his team on Tuesday included a social media post baselessly describing Engoron’s clerk as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s “girlfriend.” Trump posted the claim, which mirrors a storyline that originated on a defunct conservative satire site, on his Truth Social platform along with a link to the clerk’s personal Instagram page, a move which increases the risk of targeted harassment. A spokesperson for Schumer did not respond to a request for comment. Trump appears to have deleted the post. 

Along with Trump’s attack on the court clerk, his re-election campaign sent an email to their press list with a dossier that attempted to cast Judge Engoron as partisan, based in part on completely incorrect information. The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.. 

In New York, supreme and civil court judges are elected. As a result, they often receive endorsements from local political figures and clubs. The dossier sent out by the Trump campaign highlighted Engoron’s past donations to Democratic politicians and a message he sent expressing gratitude to local political clubs including Democratic organizations. In a stunningly poor example of opposition research gone wrong, the Trump campaign mistakenly characterized the list as showing “a list of Democrats including Barack Obama” receiving gratitude from Engoron. However, former President Barack Obama was not actually on the list. Instead, Engoron had thanked the “Barack Obama Democratic Club,” an organization based in Upper Manhattan. 

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, a Democrat who founded the club, told TPM former President Obama has nothing to do with the group. 

“In New York City it is very common for Democratic clubs to be named after former presidents, from Thomas Jefferson to JFK. I was proud to found the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan in that tradition,” Levine said in a text message. “I’m not sure  President Obama ever was even aware of the club’s existence.  To imply that Obama himself endorsed Judge Arthur Engoron in a Manhattan judicial race in 2015 is laughably absurd.”

In a separate message, moments after he found out his club was the basis of an attack from the Trump campaign, Levine offered a raw reaction to the spectacle of a former president attacking a sitting judge. 

“This is insane,” Levine said. 

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