Donald Trump’s lawyers on Wednesday urged a New York judge to declare a mistrial in a civil fraud case over his family real estate company’s business practices, but the former U.S. president faces long odds of getting a new trial.
Lawyers for Trump and his family company argued in court filings that the conduct of Justice 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 “disparaging” Trump to a newsletter for alumni of a school he attended, and had improperly given his law clerk – who sits beside him during the trial’s proceedings – too much latitude to participate in the case.
“Given the demonstrable partisan bias present on the bench at trial, the only way to maintain public confidence in a truly independent and impartial judiciary and the rule of law is to bring these proceedings to an immediate halt,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.
In a statement responding to the motion, a spokesperson for New York Attorney General Letitia James said Trump was trying to distract from his fraud.
A spokesman for the New York State court system did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The motion argued that a gag order Engoron imposed on Oct. 3 forbidding both sides from speaking about his staff was unconstitutional.
The order came after Trump shared on social media a photo of the judge’s principal law clerk posing with U.S. Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and falsely called her Schumer’s “girlfriend.”
Trump’s lawyers said in their filing that the gag order “may reasonably be interpreted as an effort to shield” his law clerk’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 newsletters for alumni of the Wheatley School, a public school on Long Island from which Engoron graduated in 1967. Engoron runs the newsletter, which frequently includes updates on alumni lives and reminiscences about their time in school.
Reuters reviewed the nine newsletters Trump’s lawyers flagged. He posted the links, mostly without commentary, to articles in outlets like the New York Times and New York Daily News about the long-running case under headings such as “1967 – Art Engoron – In the News.”
In a Feb. 16, 2021 post, he referred to an article about the case in legal blog Above the Law as “a humorous, irreverent take.”
It is highly unlikely that Engoron will declare a mistrial, given his earlier fraud findings and defence of his law clerk’s conduct.
The lawsuit over his real estate practices accuses Trump pumping up the value of apartment towers, golf courses and other assets to win better financing terms.
The trial largely concerns damages. Engoron has already found Trump, his adult sons and 10 of his companies liable for fraud, describing in scathing terms how the defendants made up valuations.
Engoron’s ruling could strip Trump’s control of some of his best known properties, though that order is on hold during 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 woes facing Trump as he campaigns for the presidency. He has pleaded not guilty to four criminal indictments, including two over charges he tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election.