Trump requests mistrial in $250 million New York business fraud case

Former US President Donald Trump appeared in court on Tuesday for the third week of a civil fraud trial in New York, on October 17, 2023.

Fatih Akta | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Donald Trump and his co-defendants asked a judge Wednesday to grant a mistrial in the $250 million civil business fraud case that threatens the former president’s business empire.

In a court filing, attorneys for Trump, his two adult sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, the Trump Organization and its top executives argued that “the evidence of apparent and actual bias” in the case is “tangible and overwhelming.”

The 30-page filing in Manhattan Supreme Court targeted the presiding judge, Arthur Engoron, as well as his principal law clerk, claiming their conduct has “tainted these proceedings” and that “only the grant of a mistrial can salvage what is left of the rule of law.”

The focus on the clerk comes after Engoron barred defense attorneys from commenting on his staff, citing a wave of threats and harassment that have “inundated” his office since the trial began last month.

Trump himself was already bound by that same gag order, which Engoron imposed after the former president repeatedly attacked the law clerk online and at the courthouse.

The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the sweeping fraud case, accused Trump of “trying to dismiss the truth and the facts” by throwing out the trial.

“The numbers and evidence don’t lie,” a spokesperson for James’ office said in a statement. “Donald Trump is now being held accountable for the years of fraud he committed and the incredible ways he lied to enrich himself and his family. He can keep trying to distract from his fraud, but the truth always comes out.”

James accuses Trump and the other defendants of fraudulently inflating his net worth by billions of dollars in order to obtain financial perks including tax benefits and better loan and insurance terms.

She seeks about $250 million in damages and wants to permanently bar Trump and his sons, who took over the Trump Organization after their father became president in 2017, from running a New York business.

Before the trial even began, Engoron had found the defendants liable for fraudulently misstating the values of Trump’s real estate properties and other assets. The judge in that pretrial ruling ordered the cancellation of the defendants’ business certificates, but an appeals court has temporarily paused that order from taking effect.

Engoron will deliver additional verdicts in the trial, which is being held without a jury to determine penalties and resolve six other claims in James’ lawsuit.

The defense lawyers in Wednesday’s court filing accused Engoron and his clerk of creating an “appearance of impropriety” that feeds a “public perception of bias in this case.”

They pointed to articles shared by Engoron in his alumni newsletter, which they say are “disparaging” to the defendants and their counsel. Those articles, most of which are news stories from major publications including NPR and The New York Times, were shared before the trial began.

The lawyers also decried the alleged “co-judging” by Engoron and his clerk. Their filing, which includes pictures of the two seated next to each other in the courtroom, argued that the clerk has “unprecedented and inappropriate latitude” over the case.

They also accused the clerk of engaging in “partisan activities,” citing her contributions to Democratic groups that they say are supporting James, the attorney general.

The clerk has “engaged in prohibited partisan political activity with respect to the parties before the Court, while their case is pending before the Court,” they argued.

Trump’s lawyers had previously told the court that they would seek a mistrial, the latest in a series of efforts to either halt or scrap the fraud case. Trump lost a bid to stay the trial days after it began in early October, and an appeals court rejected a request from Ivanka Trump’s defense lawyer to pause the entire trial while she fought a subpoena for her testimony.

Defense attorneys have also repeatedly asked Engoron to grant a directed verdict that would throw out James’ claims in the case. Engoron has rejected each of those requests.

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