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Judge in Trump fraud trial issues new gag order on attorneys after dispute over clerk

The judge overseeing the civil fraud trial against former President Donald Trump and other defendants issued a new gag order Friday barring attorneys in the case from publicly discussing the judge’s communications with members of his staff.

Judge Arthur Engoron issued the order after a protracted back-and-forth with Christopher Kise, one of Trump’s defense attorneys who has taken issue with Engoron’s close consultations with his law clerk. In court on Friday, Kise alleged the clerk, Allison Greenfield, could be politically biased against Trump and raised concerns about the number of notes she has passed to the judge during the trial.

Engoron dismissed those arguments in court and again in a written order, finding them “wholly unpersuasive.” The order prohibits any attorneys in the case from “making any public statements, in or out of court, that refer to any confidential communications, in any form, between my staff and me.”

Engoron is overseeing the case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James against Trump, his two oldest sons, the Trump Organization and several executives in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. James’ office alleges the defendants orchestrated a decade-long fraud scheme to inflate the value of the company’s properties and Trump’s personal wealth. Engoron has already found the Trumps and their company liable for business fraud.

The trial, which is related to other allegations in the suit, is entering its sixth week on Monday, when Trump is set to take the stand. His sons testified this week. All defendants have denied any wrongdoing.

The fight over the gag order

On Oct. 3, the second day of the trial, Engoron issued a limited gag order barring Trump and other defendants from publicly discussing members of his staff. That order was prompted by a derogatory post that appeared on Trump’s account on his Truth Social platform. He has fined Trump twice since then for violations, most recently for $10,000 after he made a remark outside the courtroom that seemed to refer to Greenfield.

In court on Friday, Kise said the defense team had concerns about political bias in the case, citing a report from the conservative website Breitbart News about Greenfield’s political donations. Kise said he would continue to voice his concerns to ensure they were captured in the court record, and said the defense “will have to give serious consideration of seeking a mistrial.”

Engoron said he was unaware of the report but upbraided Kise for the insinuation that he or his clerk are motivated by politics. “It’s a shame it has descended to this level,” Engoron said. “I just want to move forward with the trial, just want to do the best job I can do.”

Engoron’s written order

He formalized his reprimand in the written order prohibiting discussion of his communications with his staff later Friday afternoon.

Trump’s attorneys, Engoron wrote, have made “repeated, inappropriate remarks about my Principal Law Clerk, falsely accusing her of bias against them and of improperly influencing” the trial.

“Defendants’ attorneys have made long speeches alleging that it is improper for a judge to consult with a law clerk during ongoing proceedings, and that the passing of notes from a judge to a law clerk, or vice-versa, constitutes an improper ‘appearance of impropriety’ in this case,” he wrote. “These arguments have no basis.”

Engoron said his clerks “are public servants who are performing their jobs in the manner in which I request,” including by responding to his questions. He said the defense team is not “entitled to the confidential communications amongst me and my court staff” and that he would “continue to consult with my staff, as is my unfettered right, throughout the remainder of the trial.”

He wrote that his office has been “inundated with hundreds of harassing and threat[en]ing phone calls, voicemails, emails, letters, and packages” since the start of the trial, and that 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.”

Violations of the order will “result in serious sanctions,” he said.

Graham Kates contributed reporting.

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