Trump's NY fraud trial starts on time 'come hell or high water,' judge warns warring lawyers at hearing
Lawyers for Trump argued Wednesday against threatened sanctions in NY's $250 million fraud lawsuit.
Oral arguments focused on whether something called the "Trump Organization" legally exists.
The judge, meanwhile, warned that "come hell or high water" an October trial will not be delayed.
New York's $250 million fraud lawsuit against Donald Trump, his family, and his company will go to trial this October as scheduled, a judge warned at a court hearing on Wednesday, as lawyers for both sides continued warring over a seemingly basic definition: What is the Trump Organization?
"I am determined to start the case on time," the judge, state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, told 15 lawyers and legal support staff in a Manhattan courtroom.
"Come hell or high water, and pardon my French," the judge added of his set-in-stone trial start time: 10 a.m. on Monday, October 2, 2023.
New York Attorney General Letitia James' massive September lawsuit seeks to permanently bar Trump and his three eldest children from doing business in New York.
The lawsuit alleges Trump and Trump Organization executives lied about the value of company properties by billions of dollars, and did so to cheat banks, insurers, and tax authorities.
Keeping the parties on track for trial required the judge on Wednesday to shoo them from the brink of an existential rabbit hole: an ongoing debate over whether the Trump Organization — the former president's real-estate and golf resort company — is even a thing.
Lawyers for Trump insisted at the hearing, as they have repeatedly in 5,000 pages of recent court filings, that the name is just a branding shorthand for some 500 Trump-owned subsidiaries.
There actually is no such legal entity as the Trump Organization, so James can't just throw the name around in her lawsuit, they argued.
"We're careful lawyers," Trump's high-price attorney, Christopher Kise, a former solicitor general of Florida, explained of any seemingly time-frittering quibbling over whether the Trump Organization exists.
"Words matter," agreed Kise's co-counsel, Clifford Robert. "I don't want to use the phrase 'sloppy pleading,' that's derogatory," he added at another point, taking a swipe at the attorney general's lawsuit.
Lawyers for James however, appeared unwilling on Wednesday to let go of those three words.
It's shorthand for them, as well — James' lawsuit references "the Trump Organization," for convenience's sake, some 300 times in its 222 pages.
The Trump defendants are trying to hide behind repetitive blocks of text denying the Trump Organization is a thing, Kevin Wallace, senior enforcement counsel for James, told the judge Wednesday.
Doing so obscures "what's being acknowledged and what's being denied," he complained.
As an example, Trump wouldn't even admit, in Thursday's 300-page answer to James' lawsuit, that he remained the de facto president of the Trump Organization during his White House years, something he'd conceded under oath in another lawsuit, Wallace complained to the judge.
Instead, Trump repeated that the name is just branding shorthand, Wallace said.
Wallace on Tuesday had sent the judge a letter calling for sanctions against the lawsuit's 16 defendants and their legal teams, calling Thursday's 5,000 pages of responses to the James lawsuit "meritless," "repetitive," and "improper," among other descriptors.
Engoron agreed Wednesday that the defendants' filings were too long.
James' lawsuit sues Donald Trump, Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, former CFO Allen Weisselberg, controller Jeffrey McConney, the Trump Organization, Inc., and various related trusts, holding companies, and subsidiaries — 16 defendants in all.
Of the 16 defendant responses to James' lawsuit, filed en masse on Thursday night, 15 were 300 pages or longer, in large part due to the repetitive blocks of text denying that the Trump Organization exists.
"I don't know how many countless pages — if I was good at math I would have been an accountant — were wasted," the judge quipped.
The judge urged the attorney general's office and the defendants' lawyers to avoid a protracted argument over sanctions.
"They're messy, they're controversial," added the judge. "I'm hoping we can just reach a resolution."
Engoron fined Donald Trump $110,000 in May for failing to fully comply with James' subpoenas as part of a contempt-of-court finding currently under strenuous appeal.
James can't seek sanctions as a first resort "every time the attorney general doesn't like a position we take," argued another Trump defense lawyer, Armen Morian. "It's not a good look," Morian said.
Wallace warned that the attorney general's office may yet seek sanctions if the amended paperwork continues to include provably-false denials.
But he agreed to set that threat aside, and for now, send the defense teams letters detailing what he called their "problematic responses."
The defense lawyers agreed to address those concerns — and tighten up what the judge called their "excessive verbiage" — in amended versions of their paperwork.
"Maybe, miraculously, one of the answers is OK," and won't need amending, Kise suggested with a smile, as the hearing wrapped.
Across a courtroom conference table, another lead assistant attorney general on the case, Andrew Amer, slowly shook his head back and forth, "No," and smiled back.
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