Judge temporarily lifts silence order, barring Trump from defaming court staff in fraud trial

(Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Associated Press)

Judge temporarily lifts silence order, barring Trump from defaming court staff in fraud trial


November 17, 2023

A gag order banning former President Trump from commenting on court staff after he discredited a law clerk in his civil fraud trial in New York was temporarily lifted Thursday by an appellate judge who raised concerns about free speech.

Judge David Friedman of the state’s interim appeals court issued a so-called stay, allowing the former president to speak about court personnel while a longer appeals process was underway.

Judge Arthur Engoron imposed the silence order in October. 3 after Trump posted a false comment about the judge’s clerk on social media on the second day of the New York Atty trial. General Letitia James lawsuit. James claims Trump exaggerated his wealth based on financial statements used to secure loans and close deals.

Engoron later found Trump $15,000 for violating the gag order and extended it to his lawyers after questioning Clerk Allison Greenfield’s prominent role on the bench, where she sits next to the judge, exchanging notes and advising him during testimony. Friedman’s ruling allows attorneys to once again comment on court personnel.

During an emergency hearing Thursday, Friedman questioned Engoron’s authority to monitor what Trump says outside the courtroom. He also disputed the trial judge’s assertion that restricting the 2024 Republican front-runners’ speech was necessary or the right solution to protect the safety of his staff.

Given the constitutional and legal rights at stake, a temporary stay is granted, Friedman said, announcing his decision as he wrote it down in a court order.

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The appeals court intervened after Trump’s lawyers filed a lawsuit against Engoron late Wednesday challenging his silence order as an abuse of power. They sued under a state law known as Section 78, which allows lawsuits over certain court decisions.

Trump and his lawyers have grown increasingly frustrated with Engoron presiding over the non-jury trial in James’ lawsuit. Trump, angry over a pre-trial fraud ruling that puts his real estate empire at risk, has called him an extremely hostile judge. His lawyers asked for a mistrial on Wednesday, citing evidence of palpable and overwhelming bias.

Trump and his lawyers have repeatedly criticized Greenfield, claiming the former judicial nominee was a partisan voice in Engoron’s ear. Both Greenfield and Engoron are Democrats.

Engoron did not comment on the ruling on the silence order in court on Thursday afternoon. As for the mistrial, he gave James office until December. 8 to respond before he rules.

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Several Trump lawyers and state attorneys from James’ office left the trial in Manhattan to attend the emergency hearing at a state courthouse a few miles away. They sat around a table in a conference room and argued for about 45 minutes before Friedman ruled.

Trump attorney Christopher Kise praised the temporary stay as the right decision.”

Friedman has allowed President Trump to take full advantage of his First Amendment constitutional rights to talk about bias in his own trial, what he sees and what he witnesses in his own trial, which frankly everyone needs to see, said Kise.

Trump didn’t wait long to lash out at Greenfield, calling her a politically biased and out-of-control “Trump Hating Clerk” in a post on his Truth Social platform Thursday evening.

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Trump lawyer Alina Habba said she saw no reason to tell Trump to shut up about the clerk, telling reporters that James continues to discredit her client and that both sides should be allowed to speak.

State attorneys and a legal system attorney representing Engoron urged the appellate judge to uphold the silence order. They argued that the trial judge had taken a reasonable step to protect his staff amid increased threats to their safety.

Engoron and his staff have received hundreds of threatening and anti-Semitic phone calls and letters since the trial started in October. 2, said Justice System attorney Lisa Evans. She blamed Trump’s comments about Engoron and Greenfield for heightening his supporters’ anger toward them. “Greenfield is playing Whac-A-Mole and is now trying to block her number,” Evans said.

It is not that Trump has made direct threats against the staff and Judge Engoron; It’s that what he said prompted his constituents to make threats, Evans discussed, comparing the potential fallout to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and a violent attack on Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul.

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That’s not a political speech. That is threatening behavior and it must be stopped, Evans said.

Kise suggested that security concerns were exaggerated, arguing that Engoron used the guise of threats and the goblins of “Trump is a bad person and he says bad things” to prevent the former president and his lawyers from using the influence of Greenfield would question the process.

Trump did not threaten Greenfield, nor did he make public any personal information such as her home address, Kise said. Meanwhile, he noted, she is routinely photographed alongside Engoron by media photographers and videographers covering the trial.

State’s Attorney Daniel Magy argued that Trump’s immense social media audience had made the clerk more of a target for threats. Trump’s offensive social media post was based on someone else’s post that was followed by only a handful of people.

Both messages included a photo Greenfield publicly posted online of her with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, but Trump added a falsehood about her personal life before sending it to his millions of followers.


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