Donald Trump was fined $5,000 on Friday by a New York judge for ignoring a gag order barring him from disparaging court staff during a civil fraud trial in which he is accusing of unlawfully inflating his net worth to dupe lenders.
Further mis-steps by Mr Trump could be punished by steeper fines and possible imprisonment, Justice Arthur Engoron said in an order, Reuters reported.
The judge noted that the infraction appeared inadvertent, but added: "Make no mistake: future violations, whether intentional or unintentional, will subject the violator to far more severe sanctions".
Mr Engoron said in the order that a social media post by Mr Trump attacking the judge's clerk – which was deleted from the former president's Truth Social platform – had remained visible on his campaign website two weeks after he had ordered it taken down.
Mr Engoron said in court that Mr Trump had posted “an untrue and disparaging post about my clerk” on his social media account and that he had spoken to the former president about the matter, according to NBC News.
Mr Trump is on trial in New York in a civil case, accused of inflating the value of his assets by billions of dollars a year to dupe banks and insurers.
He also faces five other trials as he campaigns to return to the White House, including four criminal prosecutions.
“I ordered him to remove the post immediately and he said he did take it down,” Mr Engoron was quoted as saying by NBC News.
“Despite this order, last night I learnt the offending post was never removed from a website. This is a blatant violation of the gag order. I made it clear (that) failure to comply will result in serious sanctions,” the judge added.
Trump lawyer Christopher Kise blamed the “very large machine” of Mr Trump’s presidential campaign for allowing a version of his deleted social media post to remain on his website, calling it an unintentional oversight.
Mr Engoron, however, said the buck stops with Mr Trump – even if it was someone on his campaign who failed to remove the offending post.
“I want to be clear that Donald Trump is still responsible for the large machine even if it’s a large machine,” the judge said.
Mr Engoron issued a limited gag order on October 3 barring all participants in the case from smearing court personnel after Mr Trump publicly maligned principal law clerk, Allison Greenfield, in what the judge deemed a “disparaging, untrue and personally identifying” Truth Social post.