Former President Donald Trump’s lawyers on Wednesday filed a motion for a mistrial in the $250 million New York civil fraud case, claiming that Judge Arthur Engoron and his principal law clerk demonstrated bias.
The defendant's filing largely focuses on their observations of interactions between the judge and his law clerk in the case. Engoron has already issued a partial gag order prohibiting Trump from making disparaging remarks about his law clerk during the trial.
Engoron issued the gag order last month after the former president trashed his law clerk on social media and to reporters. Trump’s legal team has also argued that Engoron is too “intertwined” with his clerk, who has passed him notes and sometimes whispered to him during testimony.
Engoron later expanded the gag order to include members of Trump’s legal team, whom he said were “falsely accusing [his clerk] of bias against them and of improperly influencing the ongoing bench trial.” Engoron said members of Trump’s legal team had alleged that it’s improper conduct for a judge to consult with his law clerk amid proceedings and that the passing of notes between them during the trial carries the “appearance of impropriety.”
Engoron pushed back, saying in his order that arguments from Trump’s lawyers “have no basis.” The judge later gave Trump's attorneys the green light to file an order for a motion for a mistrial, and Trump attorney Alina Habba said it would be done in a "delicate manner."
In the filing for a mistrial, Trump attorneys named the clerk and even included pictures of her while alleging she demonstrated "political bias," pointing to what they described as political donations that exceed permitted limits.
“Specifically, the Court’s own conduct, coupled with [the clerk's] unprecedented role in the trial and extensive, public partisan activities, would cause even a casual observer to question the Court’s partiality,” Habba and other Trump attorneys, Clifford Robert, Michael Farina and Christopher Kise, wrote in the filing. “Thus, only the grant of a mistrial can salvage what is left of the rule of law.”
The clerk's “position as a de facto co-judge violates the code” and “creates the appearance, if not the fact, of a co-judge presiding over the trial,” they added.
Trump's lawyers went on to argue that the gag orders and enforcement also demonstrate bias. (Trump has already been fined twice for violating the gag order.)
“This Court’s efforts to silence counsel from objecting to and creating a record of what anyone could observe publicly taking place in the courtroom during the trial thus plainly augment the appearance of impropriety,” they wrote.
In response to the request from Trump lawyers for a mistrial, Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat whose office brought the fraud case against Trump, his adult sons and the Trump Organization, said the former president is again “trying to dismiss the truth and the facts, but the numbers and evidence don’t lie.”
“Donald Trump is now being held accountable for the years of fraud he committed and the incredible ways he lied to enrich himself and his family,” James said in a statement. “He can keep trying to distract from his fraud, but the truth always comes out.”
Trump recently smeared Engoron's law clerk in a post to his Truth Social platform by reposting a different user's Instagram post showing her at an event where she posed with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
In the post, Trump suggested, without evidence, that the clerk had an inappropriate relationship with Schumer. Trump then amplified attacks against her in brief remarks to reporters.
The gag order only applies to Engoron's staff, not to the judge himself. His ruling noted that his chambers had been "inundated" with hundreds of threats since the beginning of the trial.
Trump has continued to blast Engoron and James in recent social media posts, claiming without evidence that they are attempting to interfere with his chances of winning re-election.