The judge overseeing Donald Trump's civil fraud trial on Tuesday imposed a gag order – promising sanctions for any breaches – after the former US president used social media to lash out against the judge's top law clerk.
Justice Arthur Engoron of the New York state court in Manhattan told lawyers for Mr Trump and New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the fraud case, that attacks on his staff were “unacceptable, inappropriate and will not be tolerated under any circumstances”.
Acting on the second day of evidence in the trial, the judge forbade both sides from speaking about his staff and threatened “serious sanctions” if anyone did.
“Consider this statement a gag order,” Mr Engoron added.
Ms James has accused Mr Trump, his two adult sons, the Trump Organisation and others of inflating asset values over a decade to secure favourable bank loans and insurance terms as well as exaggerating the former president's own riches by more than $2 billion. The trial could lead to the dismantling of Mr Trump's business empire as he seeks to regain the presidency in 2024.
Mr Engoron spoke after Mr Trump shared a social media post of the clerk, who was identified by name, posing with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who is not involved in the case. Mr Trump referred to the clerk as “Schumer's girlfriend”.
“How disgraceful!” added Mr Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination to face Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2024 election. “This case should be dismissed immediately!!”
Mr Trump's post was later deleted.
The order came as the government's first witness, Mr Trump's former accountant Donald Bender, gave evidence for a second day as the attorney general's office tries to show that Mr Trump and his family business deceived even the people reviewing his financials.
Under questioning from Kevin Wallace, a lawyer in Ms James's office, Mr Bender said financial statements he prepared for the Trump Organisation were largely based on self-reported figures.
Ms James is seeking at least $250 million in fines, a permanent ban against Mr Trump and his sons, Donald Jr and Eric, from running businesses in New York, and a five-year commercial real estate ban against the former president and the Trump Organisation.
Earlier in the day, Mr Trump renewed his attacks on Ms James, telling reporters that the Democrat was “grossly incompetent” and had concocted a bogus case.
“Her numbers are fraudulent,” Mr Trump said. “She's a fraud.”
Mr Engoron had ruled before the trial that Mr Trump committed fraud and cancelled business certificates for companies that control crown jewels of his portfolio, including Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street in Manhattan.
The trial will review six additional claims including falsifying business records, insurance fraud and conspiracy, and address how much the defendants should pay in penalties. The trial could last into December.
Others expected to give evidence include the Trump Organisation's former chief financial officer and controller and Mr Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. Mr Trump and his adult sons are also on Ms James's witness list.
Mr Trump has denied wrongdoing.