New York judge lifts Trump's gag order in civil fraud trial

Decision allows former US president to speak freely about court staff while a longer appeals process plays out

Former US president Donald Trump makes a zipped-lips motion as he leaves New York Supreme Court. AP
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A gag order that barred former US president Donald Trump from commenting about court personnel after he disparaged a law clerk in his New York civil fraud trial has been temporarily lifted by an appellate judge who raised free speech concerns.

Judge David Friedman of the state’s intermediate appeals court on Thursday issued what is known as a stay – suspending the gag order and allowing Mr Trump to speak freely about court staff while a longer appeals process plays out.

The trial judge, Arthur Engoron, imposed the gag order on October 3 after Mr Trump posted a false comment about the judge’s law clerk to social media on the second day of the trial in New York Attorney General Letitia James’s lawsuit.

Ms James alleges Mr Trump exaggerated his wealth on financial statements used to secure loans and make deals.

Mr Engoron later fined Trump $15,000 for violating the gag order and expanded it to include his lawyers after they questioned clerk Allison Greenfield’s prominent role on the bench, where she sits alongside the judge, exchanging notes and advising him during testimony.

Mr Friedman’s ruling allows the lawyers to again comment about court staff as well.

At an emergency hearing on Thursday, Mr Friedman questioned Mr Engoron’s authority to police what Mr Trump says outside the courtroom. He also disputed the trial judge’s contention that restricting the 2024 Republican front-runner’s speech was necessary or the right remedy to protect his staff’s safety.

The appellate court intervened after Mr Trump’s lawyers filed a lawsuit against Mr Engoron late on Wednesday that challenged his gag order as an abuse of power.

Donald Trump zips his lips after testifying in civil case – video

Donald Trump zips his lips after testifying in civil case

Donald Trump zips his lips after testifying in civil case

Mr Trump and his lawyers have been increasingly frustrated with Mr Engoron presiding over the non-jury trial in Ms James’s lawsuit. Mr Trump, angered by a pretrial fraud ruling imperilling his property empire, has called him an “extremely hostile” judge.

His lawyers on Wednesday asked for a mistrial, citing evidence of “tangible and overwhelming” bias.

Mr Trump and his lawyers have repeatedly criticised Ms Greenfield, contending the former judicial candidate is a partisan voice in Mr Engoron’s ear – though both are Democrats.

Trump lawyer Christopher Kise lauded the stay as the “right decision”.

Mr Friedman has “allowed President Trump to take full advantage of his constitutional First Amendment rights to talk about bias in his own trial, what he’s seeing and witnessing in his own trial – which, frankly, everyone needs to see”, Mr Kise said.

Mr Trump did not wait long to lash out at Ms Greenfield, calling her a “politically biased and out of control, Trump Hating Clerk” in a post to his Truth Social platform on Thursday night.

State lawyers and a court system lawyer representing Mr Engoron urged the appellate judge to keep the gag order in place. They argued the trial judge had taken a reasonable step to protect his staff amid increased threats to their safety.

Mr Engoron and his staff have received hundreds of threatening and anti-Semitic phone calls and letters since the trial began on October 2, court system lawyer Lisa Evans said.

She blamed Mr Trump’s comments about Mr Engoron and Ms Greenfield for amplifying his supporters' anger towards them.

Updated: November 17, 2023, 2:41 PM