An appellate judge has taken the remarkable step of hitting pause on the New York Attorney General’s upcoming bank fraud trial against Donald Trump—granting the former president’s request in a surprise hearing on Thursday that was closed to the public.
Now, a full five-judge appellate panel is set to make a decision that could fundamentally alter the case on the eve of trial. And if they take longer than a few days, it will delay the trial altogether.
Appellate Justice David Friedman’s rapid decision—following a brief 3:45 p.m. virtual hearing—acquiesced to Trump’s frantic last-minute attempt to derail a trial that threatens to destroy his corporate empire. The former president’s lawyers have turned the heat on the judge overseeing this case—by suing him directly.
Trump was represented by Florida attorney Christopher Kise, according to court employee conversations overheard by this reporter. According to paperwork obtained by The Daily Beast, three lawyers from the AG’s office were also present at the virtual hearing.
Shortly after the appellate judge’s decision, Attorney General Letitia James released a statement, saying, “We are confident in our case and will be ready for trial.”
In an emergency court filing Thursday morning, attorneys for the former president and his associates cited an “urgency” that required New York’s higher courts to step in. They want an appellate judge to commence an “Article 78 special proceeding” against Justice Arthur F. Engoron, one that would force him to decimate a case brought by the AG.
“Although he has yet to perform his lawful duty, Justice Engoron plans to proceed with the trial of the Attorney General’s claims on October 2, 2023—just nineteen days from the date of this petition,” attorneys Clifford S. Robert and Michael Madaio wrote.
It’s a rare move of aggression—particularly this close to trial, which was set to start on Oct. 2. But this has become Trump’s preferred strategy in recent months, a far-fetched gamble he’s currently trying against federal judges in Washington and West Palm Beach who remain utterly unswayed by his relentless attempts to violate their orders and delay cases.
Trump’s lawyers filed a case before New York’s First Department appellate court, which has repeatedly weighed in on this Trump case and many others originating from Manhattan.
Thursday’s court filing claims Engoron and James are both acting to defy appellate orders that could narrow the AG’s behemoth bank fraud lawsuit, putting the judge in the awkward position of having to use lawyers to defend himself alongside the AG. He is expected to be represented by the local court administration’s own lawyers.
Trump’s legal team says Engoron is overstepping his authority, and they want an appellate judge to put him in his place. It’s the latest escalation against the trial court judge, who has increasingly grown tired of their delay antics.
This summer, a state appellate court ordered Engoron to figure out which real estate deals by the Trump Organization are too old for the AG to examine for potential bank and insurance fraud. The judge has yet to draw a cutoff, even though he is expected to do so in the coming days.
But Team Trump can’t wait, and they’re itching to use this as a method to push back the trial. When they requested a three-week delay, Engoron immediately shot that down.
In Thursday’s court filing, the Trump lawyers complained about the way Engoron was “terse” in his curt, nine-word order in which he simply wrote, “Decline to sign; Defendants’ arguments are completely without merit.”
They argued that the judge’s “summary rejection… demonstrates he has no intent to do so and deems the notion that he is bound by this court’s mandate to be ‘completely without merit,’” framing Engoron’s decision as an act of defiance.
The defense lawyers represent the former president, his sons Don Jr. and Eric, Trump Organization executives Allen Weisselberg and Jeffrey McConney, and various corporate entities.
The judge who made the decision to halt the trial, Friedman, has a reputation as a tough-on-crime judge who was appointed by Republican New York Gov. George Pataki in 1999.
Trump, who’s still the leading Republican primary candidate in 2024, is drowning in legal trouble that’s increasingly hurting his presidential campaign. Starting in March, he’ll be in back-to-back criminal trials starting in Washington, then New York, then Florida—and possibly Georgia. He’s also trying to slink away from paying a nearly $1 million court sanction in West Palm Beach, now that his revenge lawsuit against one-time rival Hillary Clinton has blown up in his face.
But first in line is next month’s civil fraud trial, which threatens to obliterate the Trump Organization. The AG, whose team investigated the real estate tycoon’s finances for more than three years, is suing to snatch away what she calls $250 million-plus in fraudulent gains. She also wants to tear up the enterprise’s business licenses, choking off the Trump family’s profit machine and barring them from running a corporation from the financial capital of the world.
James accuses Trump of completely fabricating billions of dollars in assets to commit bank and insurance fraud for more than a decade, hyperinflating just about every property imaginable, from his outlandishly decorated penthouse in Manhattan to his forested estate north of the city.