By Jack Queen and Jasper Ward
(Reuters) – A New York judge imposed a fine on Friday $5,000 for violating a gag order banning the former US president from disparaging court staff during his civil fraud trial, warning that future violations would result in “far more severe” penalties including prison time.
Judge Arthur Engoron said a Trump social media post attacking the court clerk – which was deleted from the former president’s Truth Social platform – was on his post two weeks after he issued the order removing it Campaign website remained visible for 2024.
The judge noted that the breach of the gag order appeared to be unintentional, but added: “Make no mistake: future breaches, whether intentional or unintentional, will result in far more severe sanctions for the offender.”
Those sanctions, the judge said, could include higher fines and possible prison time.
Engoron is leading the civil lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who accuses Trump of improperly inflating his assets to deceive lenders.
Trump is the front-runner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in next year’s U.S. election, holding a commanding lead over his rivals despite mounting legal troubles and court-ordered restrictions on his public statements.
Engoron imposed a limited gag order on Oct. 3 after Trump shared a photo of the chief court clerk posing with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a critic of the former president, in a social media post referred to her as the senator’s “friend.”
In imposing the confidentiality order, the judge said comments directed at his employees were “unacceptable and inappropriate and would not be tolerated under any circumstances.”
Trump appeared in person at times during the ongoing trial and attacked James and Engoron in inflammatory remarks to reporters outside the courtroom.
James’ lawsuit accused Trump of inflating the value of his properties through billions of dollars in bank statements, thereby pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten savings for loan interest. Trump is also accused of manipulating assets to deceive insurers.
Trump, who has tried to portray the case as intended to hurt him politically, has denied wrongdoing and defended his asset ratings. He said the banks did their own due diligence and benefited from the loans.
The trial, which began three weeks ago, focused on reams of emails and financial documents detailing how Trump’s companies valued their properties.
Lawyers from the attorney general’s office have tried to show that these valuations were arbitrarily inflated to satisfy Trump’s desire for a high net worth. Trump’s lawyer argued they were reasonable and based on his real estate expertise.
Trump is being prosecuted in four other cases. It covers his efforts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election, his handling of classified documents after he left office and his payment of hush money to a porn star. Trump has denied wrongdoing in those cases and has pleaded not guilty. He also faces a civil damages trial in January for defaming a writer who accused him of rape, which he denies.
On October 17, a federal judge in Washington overseeing a federal trial accusing Trump of illegally trying to reverse his 2020 defeat banned Trump from making public statements aimed at U.S. prosecutors, court staff and potential prosecutors Witnesses involved in the case.
Trump is appealing this order.
(Reporting by Jasper Ward and Jack Queen; Editing by Will Dunham and Noeleen Walder)