A New York judge fined former US president Donald Trump $5,000 on Friday after a disparaging social media post about a key court staffer in his New York civil fraud case was allowed to linger on his campaign website after the judge ordered it deleted.
Judge Arthur Engoron avoided holding Trump in contempt, for now, but reserved the right to do so – and possibly even put him in jail – if he continued to violate a gag order barring parties in the case from personal attacks on court staff.
Engoron said in a written ruling that Trump was “way beyond the ‘warning’ stage”, but decided on a nominal fine because Trump’s lawyers said the website’s retention of the post was inadvertent and was a “first time violation”.
“Make no mistake: future violations, whether intentional or unintentional,” will lead to “far more severe sanctions”, including “possibly imprisoning” Trump, wrote Engoron.
The judge’s ruling came in a week when he had already warned Trump and his lawyers to behave in court. Next week Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and now a key witness in the case against Trump, will testify in court. Trump and Cohen are now bitter – and vocal – foes.
Engoron issued a gag order against Trump on the second day of the trial earlier this month after he attacked the judge’s law clerk, Allison Greenfield, in a social media post. Greenfield has been assisting Engoron throughout the trial, usually sitting next to the judge in the courtroom.
“Why is Judge Engoron’s Principal Law Clerk, Allison R Greenfield, palling around with Chuck Schumer?” Trump posted on social media, along with a picture of her with Schumer and linking to her personal Instagram page.
Engoron had ordered Trump to remove the post and to cease posting about court staff, though the post remained on his campaign website weeks later.
Trump’s lawyer Christopher Kise apologized to the judge for the violation saying that Trump’s “campaign machinery” forgot to take down the post.
“There was no intention to evade or circumvent or ignore the order,” Kise said, adding that the post had been taken down.
This is the latest crackdown Engoron has made against Trump and his lawyers. In his pre-trial ruling, Engoron sanctioned Trump’s lawyers for repeating arguments the judge struck down, fining them $7,500 each. Trump was also fined $110,000 earlier this year for not responding to subpoenas before the case went to court.
The trial is in its third week, and about a dozen witnesses – many former Trump Organization employees and accountants – have testified. The state has been slowly building its case that Trump and his company knowingly lied about the valuations of various properties to artificially boost his net worth.
Because it is a civil case, Trump will not be sent to prison if found guilty at the end of the trial. In a pre-trial judgment, Engoron ruled that the valuations listed on various financial statements were false. The case in court is over whether Trump purposely listed false valuations. Due to the nature of the case, Engoron is the sole presider of the trial, which has no jury.
In his pre-trial ruling, Engoron ordered the cancellation of Trump’s business licenses, which could lead to serious consequences for Trump’s real estate business. An appeal on the ruling is still pending under an appellate court.
While Trump briefly attended the trial this week, anticipating the upcoming testimony of Cohen, he was not in court on Friday.