Tuesday 25 June 2024

Trump lawyers file motion to recuse Judge Engoron from civil fraud trial

 Lawyers for former President Donald Trump have filed a motion to recuse New York Judge Arthur Engoron from presiding over the real estate mogul's civil fraud trial.

Alina Habba and Robert Clifford penned the 24-page motion, which was filed with the New York State Supreme Court on June 20. According to the attorneys, Engoron reportedly had an improper conversation with an outside attorney.

"Allegations have surfaced revealing [Judge Engoron] may have engaged in actions fundamentally incompatible with the responsibilities attendant to donning the black robe and sitting in judgment," the motion stated.

The filing by Habba and Clifford stemmed from an admission by attorney Adam Leitman Bailey during a television appearance. During a Feb. 16 interview on NBC News, he disclosed that he approached Engoron three weeks before the magistrate issued his $364 million ruling against Trump on the same day as the interview. Bailey offered unsolicited advice to Engoron, which the judge accepted.

"I saw him in the corner [at the courthouse] and I told my client, 'I need to go.' And I walked over and we started talking," the lawyer said. "I wanted him to know what I think and why. I really want him to get it right."

According to Habba and Clifford, the discussion contradicts the comments of a court spokesperson who claimed that Engoron's ruling "was his alone, was deeply considered and was wholly uninfluenced." They ultimately argued that the conversation between Engoron and Bailey violates the New York Code of Judicial Conduct (NYCJC), which "expressly provides that a judge must avoid even the appearance of impropriety." 

"While [Engoron] has purportedly denied being influenced by Bailey, the appearance of impropriety engendered by Bailey's apparent communications with [the magistrate], its obfuscation until three months after entry of judgment, and the pendency of a commission investigation remains."

“It is incumbent on [Engoron], as an elected representative of the people of this State and this County, to recuse [himself] in light of the demonstrable appearance that [he] allowed [himself] to be influenced by and relied upon the biased opinions, conveyed in secret, of an unelected nonparty attorney who has previously sued [former] President Trump multiple times."

Court spokesman denies impropriety on Engoron's part

Al Baker, communications director for the New York State Unified Court System, denied any impropriety on Engoron's part in a response to NBC 4 last month. He told the outlet: "No ex parte conversation concerning this matter occurred between Engoron and Bailey or any other person. The decision Engoron issued Feb. 16 was his alone, was deeply considered and was wholly uninfluenced by this individual."

"The NYCJC exists to ensure that litigants are afforded a fair and impartial trial. Engoron's communications with Bailey regarding the merits of this case, however, directly violate that code and demonstrate that [the magistrate] cannot serve as a fair arbiter," Habba said in a statement. "It is clear that Engoron should recuse himself immediately."

In February, the Democrat judge found Trump liable for more than $350 million in damages in the civil fraud case brought against him by New York Attorney General Letitia James. Her case also targeted Trump's family and the Trump Organization.   

At the time, Engoron ruled that the former president and other defendants were liable for "persistent and repeated fraud," "falsifying business records," "issuing false financial statements," "conspiracy to falsify false financial statements," "insurance fraud" and "conspiracy to commit insurance fraud."

The judge criticized Trump's behavior during the trial, saying that the former president "rarely responded to the questions asked, and he frequently interjected long, irrelevant speeches on issues far beyond the scope of the trial."

Bailey did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent by Fox News. Notably, the lawyer successfully sued Trump over a condominium dispute years ago – which the motion to recuse mentioned.

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