A defense lawyer's late-afternoon snipe about a law clerk sparked drama at the Trump fraud trial.
The blowup came when Trump lawyer Christopher Kise snarked the law clerk was telling the judge what to do.
The judge accused Kise of misogyny and threatened to expand Trump's gag order — to cover lawyers.
A defense lawyer took a pointed verbal swipe at the law clerk in the Trump civil fraud trial Thursday, prompting anger from the judge, who accused the lawyer of misogyny and threatened to gag him and his colleagues.
The temper-flaring, accusations, and judicial threats were sparked in the Manhattan courtroom by a wisecrack comment from the Trump lawyer Christopher Kise, who was raising a routine objection during late-afternoon testimony by Eric Trump.
Maybe you should ask your law clerk first, Kise said, his voice sarcastic as he addressed the judge in the non-jury trial, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron.
Engoron has twice fined Donald Trump for similarly attacking the law clerk, Allison Greenfield, an attorney who sits 3 feet to the right of the judge, who confers with him frequently via notes and has become a stalking horse for the defense.
Hearing her referenced with derision yet again, the typically affable judge hit the figurative roof as Eric Trump watched, blank-faced, from the witness stand.
"All joking aside, do not refer to my staff again," the judge said angrily.
"The person sitting alongside of me is my principal law clerk," he said, adding that she was there to confer with him on legal issues that arose at trial.
"Sometimes I think there may be a bit of misogyny," the judge told Kise. "If you keep referring to my principal law clerk, I will consider expanding the gag order to include you and your attorneys."
The current gag order bars Trump and his co-defendants from any spoken or online statements attacking the judge's law staff.
Kise pushed back.
"Frequently, I feel like I am fighting two adversaries," he complained to the judge, referring to the state attorney general's office and Greenfield. "It's a fair comment as a lawyer."
"I'm sitting here, and I have to respond to Mr. Amer and their arguments," Kise said, referring to one of the assistant attorneys general, Andrew Amer.
"But there is someone else sending you information on a different basis," Kise said of Greenfield, who he said he'd seen pass 30 notes to the judge on the previous day. "All I'm trying to say is that gives off the appearance of impropriety."
Kise also insisted, "I'm not a misogynist," citing as proof, "I have a 17-year-old daughter."
A second Trump attorney, Alina Habba, leaped to Kise's defense.
"I have issues with the person who is also sitting on the bench," she said. "I do feel, like Mr. Kise, that your position is often what you're given in notes."
The heated exchange was tangential to a weightier effort by the attorney general's office.
Eric Trump had spent the afternoon defending his sometimes faulty memory under direct examination by Amer, who is a special counsel to state Attorney General Letitia James.
Honing what he'd testified in an earlier deposition, Eric Trump repeated on the witness stand Thursday that he was never involved in drafting the decade of annual net-worth statements that his father used to secure more than $400 million in bank loans.
The AG says these statements contained as much as $3.6 billion in intentional exaggerations each year; they are at the center of the ongoing trial.
On Thursday, Amer showed Eric Trump decade-old emails that appeared to contradict his claim he was never involved in preparing the statements. He dug in under questioning.
"We're a major organization," Eric Trump told the AG's lawyer. "A massive real-estate organization. Yes, I'm fairly sure I understand we have financial statements. But I had no involvement and never worked on my father's statement of financial condition," he said, using the formal name for the annual net-worth statements.
"I'm on a thousand calls a day," the former president's second-oldest son later protested when Amer confronted him with evidence of a 2021 video call where that year's net-worth statement was discussed.
At the end of the day Thursday, the judge did not expand the gag order. But before calling an end to testimony for the day and instructing Eric Trump to return Friday morning, he had the final word — or rather, the final long paragraph.
"Mr. Kise and the rest of your team," the judge said, addressing the defense table. "I have an absolute right, an absolute unfettered right, to get advice from my principal law clerk," as with anyone on his three-member staff, he said.
"There is no First Amendment value that I can see to referring to her, particularly when making things up — and that's not you," he told Kise.
"That's somebody else," he said, likely referring to Trump, who's been in hot water from the judge twice for a Truth Social post that falsely said the clerk was the girlfriend of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Engoron said he's weighed the lawyer's First Amendment rights against the safety of his staff, and his "points are not well taken."
"I'm pounding the table," he said, without actually pounding the table. "I have an absolute right to have communications with my clerk."
It's the fifth week of testimony in the trial, at which James — citing persistent fraud — is seeking to ban Donald Trump, the two eldest Trump sons, and the Trump Organization from doing business in the state.
Correction: November 3, 2023 — Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misattributed the judge's comment to a lawyer. Judge Engoron said he weighed the lawyer's First Amendment rights, not Kise.
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