NEW YORK, Nov 15 (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s lawyers urged a New York judge on Wednesday to declare a mistrial in a civil fraud case over the business practices of his family real estate firm, but the former U.S. president faces strong odds of a new trial . .
Lawyers for Trump and his family firm argued in court filings that the conduct of Judge Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing the case, and his law clerk showed they were biased against the defendants.
Trump’s lawyers said Engoron had posted links to news articles “derogatory” of Trump to an alumni newsletter from a school he attended and had improperly tipped his paralegal – who is sitting next to him during the trial – too much leeway to participate in the case.
“Given the demonstrable partisan bias present on the bench during the trial, the only way to maintain public confidence in a truly independent and impartial judiciary and the rule of law is to bring these trials to an immediate halt,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.
In a statement responding to the suggestion, a spokesman for New York Attorney General Letitia James said Trump was trying to distract from his fraud.
A spokesman for the New York court system did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The motion argued that a gag order Engoron imposed on Oct. 3, barring both sides from talking about his staff, was unconstitutional.
The order came after Trump shared on social media a photo of the judge’s top lawyer posing with US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, falsely calling her Schumer’s “girlfriend”.
Trump’s lawyers said in their filing that the gag order “could reasonably be construed as an attempt to shield” his attorney general’s role from scrutiny. They called the clerk’s political contributions to Democratic candidates and organizations “impermissible partisan activity.”
In the motion, Trump’s lawyers included links to the alumni newsletters of the Wheatley School, a Long Island public school from which Engoron graduated in 1967. Engoron runs the newsletter, which often includes updates on the lives of alumni and reminiscences about their time at the school. .
Reuters reviewed the nine newsletters flagged by Trump’s lawyers. He posted links, mostly without comment, to articles in outlets like the New York Times and the New York Daily News about the long-running case under headlines like “1967 – Art Engoron – In the News.”
In a post dated February 16, 2021, he referred to an article about the case in the legal blog Above the Law as “a humorous, irreverent take”.
It is highly unlikely that Engoron will declare a lawsuit given his previous fraud findings and defense of his attorney’s conduct.
The lawsuit over his real estate practices accuses Trump of inflating the value of apartment towers, golf courses and other assets to win better financing terms.
The lawsuit is largely about compensation. Engoron has already found Trump, his grown sons and 10 of his companies liable for fraud, describing in stark terms how the defendants made valuations.
Engoron’s ruling could strip Trump of control over some of his best-known properties, although that order is on hold pending appeal.
Trump took the stand in the case last week, defending his business practices and calling the case “election interference.”
The case is among the many legal problems facing Trump as he campaigns for the presidency. He has pleaded not guilty to four criminal charges, including two charges that he tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York, editing by Nick Zieminski and Noeleen Walder
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