Judge rejects Trump's request for a mistrial in his New York civil fraud case

NEW YORK (AP) — The judge in Donald Trump 's civil fraud case denied his bid for a mistrial Friday, rejecting claims from the former president's lawyers that the proceedings are poisoned by political bias.

Trump’s lawyers had argued that Judge Arthur Engoron irreparably harmed Trump’s right to a fair trial through “astonishing departures from ordinary standards of impartiality.”

They cited his rulings against Trump, the prominent role that the judge’s chief law clerk plays in court, the clerk's political donations and what the defense called Engoron’s “appearance of impropriety” in sharing articles about the case in his high school alumni newsletter.

Engoron declared Friday that the complaints were meritless.

“My principal law clerk does not make rulings or issue orders — I do,” Engoron wrote, saying that the decisions are his alone and adding: “I stand by each and every ruling, and they speak for themselves.”

As for the newsletter, “none of this has anything to do with, much less does it interfere with, my presiding fairly, impartially, and professionally over the instant dispute, which I have now been doing for more than three years, and which I intend to do until its conclusion,” he wrote.

Trump lawyer Alina Habba responded that the judge had “refused to take responsibility” for what she called his “failure to preside over this case in an impartial and unbiased manner."

“We, however, remain undeterred and will continue to fight for our clients’ right to a fair trial,” she said in a statement.

Friday's ruling came a day after an appeals judge at least temporarily lifted a gag order that Engoron had imposed on the parties and attorneys in the case to clamp down on comments about court staffers, particularly chief law clerk Allison Greenfield, who has ended up under a microscope during the trial.

A message seeking comment was sent Friday to state Attorney General Letitia James' office, which brought the civil case now on trial.

The lawsuit alleges that Trump, his company and top executives exaggerated his wealth by billions of dollars on his financial statements, which were given to banks, insurers and others to secure loans and make deals.

Engoron has already ruled that Trump and other defendants engaged in fraud, but the trial is to determine remaining claims of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. The verdict is up to Engoron, not a jury.

James is seeking more than $300 million in penalties and a ban on Trump doing business in New York — and that's after Engoron ordered before trial that a receiver take control of some of Trump’s properties. An appeals court put that order on hold for now.

Trump and his co-defendants, including sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, deny any wrongdoing. The elder Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, portrays the trial as a political star chamber orchestrated by James and Engoron, both Democrats.

He and his lawyers also have complained about Greenfield, who sits on the bench near the judge and periodically consults with him in notes during the proceedings.

Trump made a disparaging social media post about her on the trial’s second day, leading Engoron to impose the gag order and, later, to fine Trump a total of $15,000 for what the judge deemed violations.

In filing for a mistrial on Thursday, Trump's lawyers argued that the clerk had “unprecedented and inappropriate latitude” and was essentially “co-judging” the case. They cast her as a Democratic activist injecting “pro-Attorney General and antiTrump/big real estate bias" into the trial.

The defense attorneys claimed that Greenfield had violated state ethics rules that bar members of a judge’s staff from making more than $500 a year in political donations, pointing to a series of contributions she made to Democratic clubs and candidates this year and last.

Greenfield ran as a Democrat for a civil court judgeship in Manhattan last year. Under the ethics rules, candidates can exceed the contribution limit to buy tickets to political events, with some limitations.

New York judicial candidates often attend such functions, which are seen as helpful to securing a party's endorsement. Legal experts say candidates are ethically obligated to pay instead of accepting complimentary tickets.

Engoron wrote that his clerk has aimed for an elected judgeship since 2020, and he said her contributions were legal and ethical, falling below the limit once tickets to political gatherings were subtracted. He called the defense's allegations of partisan stain “nonsensical."

Last week, Engoron spurned the defense’s request to end the trial through what’s known as a directed verdict.