Trump tells appeals court that threats to judge and clerk in NY civil fraud trial do not justify gag order

Donald Trump urged a New York appeals court to continue to pause the gag order against him in his civil fraud trial, saying that threats to the judge and his law clerk do not “justify” limiting the former president’s constitutional right to defend himself.

Lawyers for the New York attorney general’s office and the court last week urged the appeals court to put the gag order back in place following “serious and credible” threats that have inundated Judge Arthur Engoron’s chambers since the trial began in October.

Trump’s attorneys wrote in a filing Monday that the former president has never threatened the judge or his principal law clerk and they can’t be held responsible for actions taken by others. They argued that Trump’s First Amendment right to criticize and call out his perception of bias by the judge and his law clerk without retribution is “essential” to maintaining public confidence in the trial.

“At base, the disturbing behavior engaged in by anonymous, third-party actors towards the judge and Principal Law Clerk publicly presiding over an extremely polarizing and high-profile trial merits appropriate security measures,” Trump’s attorneys wrote. “However, it does not justify the wholesale abrogation of Petitioners’ First Amendment rights in a proceeding of immense stakes to Petitioners, which has been compromised by the introduction of partisan bias on the bench.”

Monday’s filing was the first since hundreds of harassing messages against Engoron and a law clerk were made public last week. Engoron’s clerk has received 20-30 calls per day to her personal cell phone and 30-50 messages daily on social media platforms and two personal email addresses, according to court papers.

Earlier this month a New York appeals court judge temporarily lifted the gag order imposed on Trump and his attorneys that blocked them from making public statements about the judge’s staff, specifically the principal law clerk who he consults with on the bench. Trump and his lawyers have argued that the law clerk is biased against Trump based on political donations she made to some organizations that support the New York attorney general, who sued Trump. They alleged she is “co-judging” the case based on frequent consultations she has with the judge. At the time the appeals court judge said he would lift the gag order to allow a fuller panel of judges to weigh in given the constitutional issues at play.

Lawyers for the judge submitted filings last week urging the appeals court to put the gag order back in place saying since the gag order was lifted on November 16 the number of messages increased and about half of the harassing messages the clerk received were antisemitic.

Trump’s attorneys said Trump can’t be blamed for others’ comments.

“However, none of the contemptible dross reflected in those messages can be attributed to President Trump or his counsel. Nor have President Trump or his counsel ever made a statement referencing the Principal Law Clerk’s religion, appearance, or private activities,” they told the appeals court.

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