Trump fails to block gag orders in fraud trial

An appeals court in New York has shot down Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn gag orders that block him and his attorneys from speaking out about New York County Supreme Court staff during his civil fraud trial.

Last week, the state appeals court rejected the former president’s last-ditch attempt to fast track an appeal of the orders before he was scheduled to testify as a headlining defence witness in a case that threatens the future of the Trump Organization and his vast real estate empire.

He backed out of testifying hours before he was due in court, claiming that he “wanted” to testify but that the judge overseeing his case took away his “constitutional right to defend myself.”

On Thursday, a four-page ruling from New York’s Appellate Division, First Department found that the “gravity of potential harm” against him is small and denied his attempt to overturn the orders.

The decision arrived one day after witness testimony concluded in the trial in lower Manhattan, where Judge Arthur Engoron has presided over a bench trial for 11 weeks.

On the trial’s second day, Mr Trump spread false claims about Judge Engoron’s principal law clerk on his Truth Social, prompting the judge to order Mr Trump to delete the “untrue” and “disparaging” statements before issuing a gag order that blocks all parties in the trial from attacking the court’s staff.

Mr Trump violated the order twice, incurring $15,000 in fines. The judge also extended the order to include Mr Trump’s attorneys.

A separate decision from the state’s appeals court on Thursday blocked Mr Trump from trying to overturn the gag orders at the state’s highest court.

A blockbuster lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James accuses Mr Trump, his two adult sons and their chief associates in the Trump Organization umbrella of defrauding financial institutions with grossly inflated estimates of his net worth and assets over a decade.

The trial stemming from the lawsuit, after the judge found the defendants liable for fraud, will conclude next month after closing arguments from plaintiffs and defendants.

Judge Engoron is expected to issue a final judgment by the end of January.

The trial’s gag orders do not prohibit Mr Trump, his attorneys or any other parties in the case from disparaging the judge, Ms James and other attorneys. But Judge Engoron has argued that “the First Amendment right of defendants and their attorneys to comment on my staff is far and away outweighed by the need to protect them from threats and physical harm.”

Court filings outlined the wave of credible death threats and abusive messages that followed Mr Trump’s attacks against the judge’s clerk.

The threats against the judge and his clerk Allison Greenfield are “serious and credible and not hypothetical or speculative,” according to a recent court filing from Charles Hollon, an officer-captain with the court’s Department of Public Safety assigned to a judicial threats unit.

“The implementation of the limited gag orders resulted in a decrease in the number of threats, harassment, and disparaging messages that the judge and his staff received,” he wrote. “However, when Mr Trump violated the gag orders, the number of threatening, harassing and disparaging messages increased.”