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Donald Trump has filed a motion for a mistrial in a New York court, alleging the judge overseeing the $250m fraud case is biased.
Trump’s lawyers are asking the New York judge Arthur Engoron for a mistrial given “bias” and “improper co-judging” on the bench.
“In this case the evidence of apparent and actual bias is tangible and overwhelming,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in the motion. “Only the grant of a mistrial can salvage what is left of the rule of law.”
The fraud case brought by New York attorney general, Letitia James, accuses the Trump Organization of falsely inflating the value of its properties in order to obtain favorable loans.
Trump’s lawyers are still waiting to hear back on an appeal of Engoron’s pre-trial summary judgment, which found Trump guilty of fraud and revoked his New York business licenses, essentially ending his ability to conduct business in the state. Because this is a bench trial with no jury, Engoron is the sole presider of the case.
Given that Engoron is the one who will rule on the mistrial, which is blatantly criticizing his conduct on the court, he will likely strike down the motion.
Trump’s lawyers have implied they would file the mistrial for weeks as high-profile testimony from the Trump family and his former ally Michael Cohen got under way. Engoron, in a single week, fined Trump a total of $15,000 for violating his gag order ruling that he cannot speak publicly about court staff, particularly Engoron’s principal law clerk Allison Greenfield.
Trump was first fined $5,000 after he failed to remove a social media post from a campaign website where he made fun of Greenfield, calling her the “girlfriend” of Democratic senator Chuck Schumer. Trump later made vague comments about the “very partisan person sitting alongside” Engoron. Trump said he was referring to Michael Cohen, but the judge disagreed and fined Trump $10,000.
Greenfield is frequently mentioned in the motion for a mistrial, with Trump’s lawyers complaining that Engoron is allowing “improper co-judging”. The motion includes pictures of Greenfield sitting next to Engoron on the bench.
“Before the court rules on most issues, the court either pauses to consult with her on the bench or receives from her contemporaneous written notes,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.
While it is less common for judges to have their clerks sit alongside them while on the bench, law clerks have much influence over court proceedings, including at the US supreme court, conducting much of the legal research in a case and helping judges draft opinions.
During a spat in court earlier this month, Engoron told Trump lawyer Christopher Kise that “there may be a bit of misogyny to the fact that you keep referring to my female principal law clerk”. Engoron has said before he wants to maintain the safety of his court staff in a politically heated environment.
“I don’t want anybody killed,” he told the courtroom.
Early in the case, Trump dropped a long-shot lawsuit he filed against Engoron. His team also tried to halt the case from moving forward with a trial as it waits for its appeal to go through, but the appellate court ruled the trial may proceed as scheduled.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the New York attorney general’s office said the motion for a mistrial is another of Trump’s attempts to distract from the case.
“Once again, Donald Trump is trying to dismiss the truth and the facts, but the numbers and evidence don’t lie. Donald Trump is now being held accountable for the years of fraud he committed and the incredible ways he lied to enrich himself and his family,” the statement reads. “He can keep trying to distract from his fraud, but the truth always comes out.”
Meanwhile, Trump sparked speculation over possible talks for a settlement, writing on social media that Engoron “asked me to settle for a MUCH LOWER AMOUNT, at a settlement conference, but I said NO, I DID NOTHING WRONG!”.
Neither Engoron nor the attorney general’s office have publicly discussed a settlement during the trial’s proceedings. Before the attorney general first filed the case last September, the office turned down a settlement offer from Trump’s lawyers.
Even amid the swirl of rumors, the trial continued as scheduled on Wednesday, with Trump’s lawyers continuing to call on its list of witnesses. The trial is scheduled to run until 22 December.