A New York judge on Friday denied a request by Donald Trump and his co-defendants for a mistrial in the former president’s $250 million civil business fraud case.
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron said the arguments for a mistrial were “utterly without merit” as he declined to sign the defendants’ bid for a motion to throw out the case.
The ruling came two days after attorneys for Trump Sr., Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, the Trump Organization and its top executives argued that the case had been undermined by political bias.
The defense lawyers claimed that Engoron and his principal law clerk have “tainted these proceedings” and that “only the grant of a mistrial can salvage what is left of the rule of law.”
But Engoron in Friday’s ruling disputed each allegation of bias, and made clear that he intends to preside over the case until its conclusion.
“As expected, today the Court refused to take responsibility for its failure to preside over this case in an impartial and unbiased manner,” Trump’s attorney Alina Habba said in a statement. “We, however, remain undeterred and will continue to fight for our clients’ right to a fair trial.”
The lawsuit, brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, accuses the defendants of fraudulently inflating the values of Trump’s real estate properties and other assets for years in order to obtain tax benefits, better loan terms and other financial perks.
In addition to seeking $250 million in damages, James wants to permanently bar Trump and his two adult sons from running a New York business.
Engoron has already found the defendants liable for fraud and ordered the cancellation of their New York business certificates. The trial, which is being conducted without a jury, will determine penalties and resolve James’ other claims of wrongdoing by Trump and his co-defendants.
An appeals court has temporarily paused the process of dissolving Trump’s business entities.
In Friday’s ruling, Engoron went through all of the defendants’ arguments for a mistrial and explained why each was without merit.
The defense lawyers had pointed to articles that Engoron had linked to in his alumni newsletter, claiming they created an appearance of impropriety because they were related to the fraud case.
Engoron responded that he “neither wrote nor contributed to any of the articles on which defendants focus, and no reasonable reader could possibly think otherwise.”
He also shrugged off claims of “co-judging” by him and his clerk, writing, “my rulings are mine, and mine alone.”
The clerk has become such a target of criticism that Engoron has imposed gag orders barring both Trump and his lawyers from making comments about her. Trump has already violated the narrow gag order twice, receiving a total of $15,000 in fines.
A New York appeals judge on Thursday temporarily suspended those gag orders, citing the “constitutional and statutory rights at issue.”
In their bid for a mistrial, the defense lawyers had also that the clerk’s presence in the case damages its integrity because of contributions she made to Democratic groups, including some that are supporting the attorney general.
They had also accused the clerk of making contributions over the $500 limit that applies to members of a New York judge’s staff.
But Engoron said Trump’s lawyers were ignoring that the clerk is a candidate for judicial office, and therefore is not bound by the $500 limit when contributing to her own campaign or buying tickets to political functions.
Engoron said it was “nonsensical” to assume that the clerk’s attendance at events sponsored by political organizations suggests that she, and by proxy the judge himself, must therefore agree with the views of those groups.
“And in any event, they are a red herring, as my Principal Law Clerk does not make rulings or issue orders — I do,” Engoron wrote.
He noted that the attorney general’s office has called for a full briefing schedule on the mistrial motion. But “in good conscience, I cannot sign a proposed order to show cause that is utterly without merit, and upon which subsequent briefing would therefore be futile.”
The trial, which began last month, is expected to last until late December. Trump, a leading Republican presidential candidate, faces four pending criminal cases in addition to the fraud case and other civil matters.