A gag order that barred Donald Trump from commenting about court personnel after he disparaged a law clerk in his New York civil fraud trial was temporarily lifted Thursday by an appellate judge who raised free speech concerns.
The former president is now allowed to talk about court employees while a drawn-out appeals process is continuing thanks to a stay that was granted by state intermediate appeals court judge David Friedman.
On the second day of the trial in the lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, Trump made a false statement on social media regarding the judge’s law clerk. As a result, the trial judge, Arthur Engoron, issued the gag order on October 3. James claims that in order to get loans and close agreements, Trump inflated his wealth on his financial statements.
Later, after Trump’s attorneys questioned clerk Allison Greenfield’s significant involvement on the bench—she sits next to the judge, swapping notes and offering advice during testimony—Engeron penalised him $15,000 for breaking the gag order. Friedman’s decision permits the solicitors to make remarks regarding court employees.
Friedman questioned Engoron’s ability to control what Trump says outside of the courtroom during an emergency hearing on Thursday. Additionally, he refuted the trial judge’s claim that limiting the Republican frontrunner’s speech to 2024 was appropriate or required to ensure the security of his staff.
“Considering the constitutional and statutory rights at issue an interim stay is granted,” Friedman said, announcing his decision as he scribbled it on a court order.
The appellate court intervened after Trump’s lawyers filed a lawsuit against Engoron late Wednesday that challenged his gag order as an abuse of power. They sued the judge under a state law known as Article 78, which allows lawsuits over some judicial decisions.
Trump and his lawyers have been increasingly frustrated with Engoron presiding over the non-jury trial in James’ lawsuit. Trump, angered by a pretrial fraud ruling imperilling his real estate empire, has called him an “extremely hostile” judge. His lawyers on Wednesday asked for a mistrial, citing evidence of “tangible and overwhelming” bias.
Despite the fact that both Greenfield and Engoron are Democrats, Trump and his attorneys have frequently attacked Greenfield, claiming the former judicial candidate is a partisan voice in Engoron’s ear.
In court on Thursday afternoon, Engoron remained silent regarding the gag order ruling. He granted James’ office until December 8 to reply to the mistrial motion before making a decision.
A few state attorneys from James’ office and a few of Trump’s attorneys left the Manhattan trial to attend the emergency hearing at a state appeals courthouse a few miles away. Before Friedman made a decision, they fought over a table in a conference room for almost forty-five minutes.
Trump’s lawyer Christopher Kise lauded the temporary stay as the “right decision.”
Friedman has “allowed President Trump to take full advantage of his constitutional First Amendment rights to talk about bias in his own trial, what he’s seeing and witnessing in his own trial — which, frankly, everyone needs to see,” Kise said
In a post on his Truth Social platform on Thursday night, Trump labelled Greenfield as a “politically biassed and out of control, Trump Hating Clerk” without waiting long.
Alina Habba, the attorney for Trump, told reporters that James “is continuing to disparage” her client and that “both sides need to be able to speak,” adding that she saw no need to advise Trump to keep quiet about the clerk.
The appellate judge was persuaded to maintain the gag order by state attorneys and an attorney for Engoron in the legal system. They contended that in light of growing dangers to his employees’ safety, the trial judge had acted appropriately in shielding his workers.
Engoron and his staff have received hundreds of threatening and antisemitic phone calls and letters since the trial began Oct. 2, court system lawyer Lisa Evans said. She blamed Trump’s comments about Engoron and Greenfield for amplifying his supporters’ anger toward them. Greenfield is “playing Whac-A-Mole now trying to block her number,” Evans said.
“It’s not that Mr. Trump has directly issued threats to the staff and Judge Engoron, it’s that what he’s said has led his constituents” to make threats, Evans argued, comparing the potential effect to the Jan. 6 capitol riot and a violent attack on Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul.
“That is not political speech. That is threatening behavior and it should be stopped,” Evans said.
Kise suggested the safety concerns were overblown, arguing that Engoron was using the guise of threats — and the “hobgoblins of Trump’s a bad person and he says bad things” — to keep the ex-president and his lawyers from questioning Greenfield’s influence on the trial.
Trump hasn’t threatened Greenfield, nor has he disclosed any personal information such as her home address, Kise said. Meanwhile, he noted, she’s routinely photographed sitting next to Engoron by media photographers and videographers covering the trial.
State lawyer Daniel Magy argued that Trump’s immense social media audience had made the clerk more of a target for threats. Trump’s offending social media post was based on a post by someone else who was followed by just a handful of people.
Both posts included a picture that Greenfield had publicly posted online of her with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, but Trump added a falsehood about her personal life before sending it off to his millions of followers.
Kise on Thursday characterised Trump’s addition as “political parody,” and Friedman questioned if the blowback for Greenfield was entirely Trump’s fault, asking, “If you put something out in public and then it goes viral, who’s responsible?”
On October 20, Engoron fined Trump $5,000 after it was discovered that his post—which the judge had ordered to be removed—was still accessible on his campaign website. On October 26, following Trump’s remarks outside the court about “a person who’s very partisan sitting alongside” the judge, he imposed a $10,000 punishment. In a stunning move, Engoron summoned Trump to the platform and questioned him right away, labelling his denial as “not credible” and imposing the fee.