A New York judge ruled Friday that a limited gag order on Donald Trump should also apply to his attorneys, citing their remarks about his staff and the deluge of threats and harassment directed at his office since the former president’s fraud trial began.
“The threat of, and actual, violence resulting from heated political rhetoric is well-documented,” Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron wrote in a fiery court order Friday afternoon.
“My chambers have been inundated with hundreds of harassing and threating phone calls, voicemails, emails, letters, and packages” since the trial started, he wrote.
Friday’s order prohibits attorneys in the case from making any public statements, in or out of court, about confidential communications between the judge and his staff. But they can still refer to the clerk in the context of court schedules and procedure.
“The First Amendment right of defendants and their attorneys to comment on my staff is far and away outweighed by the need to protect them from threats and physical harm,” wrote the judge.
Violating the gag order “shall result in serious sanctions,” he added.
Engoron imposed similar restrictions on Trump on Oct. 3, after the former president shared a social media post attacking the judge’s principal law clerk. Since then, Trump has violated the gag order twice, and Engoron has imposed fines of first $5,000, and then $10,000.
Engoron’s newest order singled out two of Trump’s lawyers, Christopher Kise and Alina Habba, for making what he said were “repeated, inappropriate remarks” about the same clerk Trump attacked.
Kise and Habba say their chief complaint is the judge’s habit of using handwritten notes to communicate with his law clerk, which Kise said creates “an appearance of impropriety.”
The clerk sits to Engoron’s right, opposite the witness box. Passing written notes allows them to communicate without disrupting the proceedings.
Nonetheless, Kise has tried to paint the notes as something sinister and conspiratorial, as if the law clerk is a puppet master.
“There is someone else who is sending you information on a very, very frequent basis,” he said to Engoron in court Thursday.
These insinuations infuriated the judge, who warned Kise that he was considering a supplement to the gag order.
“Sometimes I think there may be a bit of misogyny the fact that you keep referring to my female principal law clerk,” he told Kise.
“I’m not a misogynist. I’m very happily married and I have a 17-year-old daughter,” Kise said.
Trump’s order merely bars him from attacking Engoron’s court staff. The former president is free to continue sounding off about the judge himself, as well as New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the sweeping civil case.
James alleges a decade-long scheme by Trump, his two adult sons, the Trump Organization and others to inflate his net worth in order to get various financial perks, including tax benefits and better loan terms.
James seeks about $250 million in damages, and wants to bar the Trumps from running another New York business.
Engoron has already found the defendants liable for fraudulently misstating the values of real estate properties and other assets on financial records. The trial will resolve six other claims alleged by James.
Trump is expected to be called to the witness stand Monday, following testimony this week by his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.
In the days leading up to his testimony, Trump Sr. has frequently attacked Engoron as a biased and “Trump hating” judge.