Judge Gives Trump Lawyers Second Chance in New York Trial Showdown

Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images
Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images

After exhausting a New York judge with incessant lying and legal delay games, the Trump family will get a second chance to answer a lawsuit from the New York Attorney General that threatens to bankrupt the real estate empire that bears the ex-president’s name.

“Whatever we do today, I am determined to start the trial on October 2, 2023, come hell or high water. And pardon my French,” Justice Arthur F. Engoron said in a Manhattan court on Wednesday.

After filing reality-defying court documents to defend the Trumps against Attorney General Letitia James’ bank fraud lawsuit, the increasingly large cadre of lawyers representing former President Donald Trump, his real estate empire, and the adult children he made executives there now have until mid-February to come up with better answers.

For example, that process could start with lawyers admitting that the Trump Organization actually exists—something Trump denied in a sworn, signed statement last week as part of his defense.

"In my 35 years practicing law, I have never, never... seen a pleading with such excess verbiage as the 300-page-or-so answers of the 15-or-so answers to the complaint," the judge remarked.

Wednesday’s court hearing promised to be quite the fight, with James’ office asking Engoron to take the rare step of sanctioning the Trumps’ lawyers. At one point, the judge took a break and jokingly asked everyone to reconvene “at high noon.” But after private discussions between the AG’s investigators and Trump lawyers, both sides agreed to re-file the paperwork.

The hearing also revealed that Trump’s legal team—which includes former Florida solicitor general Christopher Kise—has hired a former New York AG insider in what appears to be a personal stab at the office that has been a thorn in Trump’s side for a decade.

The Trump team now includes Armen Morian, who spent 13 years working these very types of cases until 2019 as a lawyer in the AG office’s “investor protection bureau.” At the hearing, Morian criticized his former employer for repeatedly seeking to sanction Trump’s lawyers over the past year, ending his critique with a cheeky comment that seemed to rile James’ team.

"I would implore you to reconsider that approach, because it's not a good look for our office," Morian said, emphasizing the fact that he was once on the side now targeting Trump.

Upon hearing that, the AG team began to pass notes back and forth and whisper into each other’s ears.

This latest episode shows how a dull and muted legal dispute—at least on paper—has erupted into a bitter series of courtroom skirmishes, pitting determined government investigators against Trump lawyers who have turned hearings into political theater.

After a three-year investigation into the Trump family’s questionable business practices, James sued the Trumps in civil court for routinely inflating property values—seeking to seize at least $250 million from the company, as well as another $500 million she says were made on false pretenses. According to her lawsuit, the Trumps ran a scheme that let them snag better bank loans and score bigger tax writeoffs.

But all throughout the investigation and since the lawsuit, Trump lawyers have defied subpoenas, ghosted depositions, and relied on the same tired arguments alleging that the investigation is a sham fueled by political bias.

Engoron has intervened repeatedly, forcing Trump’s legal team to turn over records and show up at closed-door interviews—at one point he even slapped Trump himself with $110,000 in fines. Last month, Engoron ordered Trump’s lawyers to meaningfully respond to the AG’s lawsuit without falling back on legal nonsense. For example, Trump lawyers keep shopping around a theory that the AG doesn’t even have the authority to investigate the Trump Organization—a preposterous position that failed in federal courts in Florida, New York, and before Engoron himself.

Making matters worse, Trump’s main lawyer in the case, Alina Habba, has used a half dozen courtroom hearings in the past year as an opportunity to verbally attack the judge and his law clerk, Allison Greenfield. Habba’s snide remarks about politics—a performance she regularly puts on at right-wing propaganda networks like One America News and Newsmax—have drawn criticism from lawyers and legal scholars across the country.

In recent weeks, the situation has reached a boiling point. When the Trumps finally responded to the lawsuit last week, they filed 300-page screeds that read like parody, denying even the most basic, provable facts. They claimed the Trump Organization doesn’t actually exist, even though their attorneys claim to represent it in court. They claim Trump never said he was an “inactive president” of the company while he was in the White House, even though Trump said so himself while testifying in a separate case. And one of his adult sons in charge of the company, Eric Trump, claimed the forested estate embroiled in a tax-dodging scheme wasn’t bought for $7.5 million in 1995, even though he previously said it was.

On Tuesday, James’ office filed paperwork asking Engoron to drag everyone into court for a showdown. The judge’s office immediately scheduled one for the very next day.

Although James’ lawsuit reads like a criminal indictment, the case remains a regulatory action targeting Trump’s business. Meanwhile, the Manhattan District Attorney is working on a parallel version of that investigation to potentially indict Trump himself for bank fraud, according to several sources who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity.

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