Judge keeps Donald Trump’s $10,000 gag order fine amid civil fraud trial

By Jack Queen

(Reuters) -A New York judge on Thursday reconsidered but ultimately stood by his decision to fine Donald Trump $10,000 for violating a gag order barring the former U.S. president from speaking publicly about court staff during his civil fraud trial.

Justice Arthur Engoron fined Trump for the second time on Wednesday after he again appeared to violate the order by making an apparent reference to his top clerk in comments before news cameras outside the courtroom.

Engoron had agreed to reconsider on Thursday after a lawyer for Trump argued that the offending statement was not directed at his clerk. Engoron did not take long to reach a decision after reviewing a clip of Trump’s remarks during a morning break, saying it was “clear” Trump was referring to his clerk.

Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2024 U.S. election, is accused in the lawsuit by Democratic New York Attorney Letitia James of inflating his assets by billions of dollars to secure better loan terms and insurance premiums.

Engoron leveled the $10,000 penalty against Trump on Wednesday after he said to reporters outside the courtroom, “this judge is a very partisan judge, with a person who’s very partisan sitting alongside of him.”

It is standard practice in New York state court for clerks to sit next to judges, with the witness box on the other side.

Briefly called to the stand to explain the comment on Wednesday, Trump said he was referring to witness Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer.

Engoron said in a written order that this explanation rang “hollow and untrue” and that using “imprecise language” to create “plausible ambiguity” is not a defense.

Engoron imposed the gag order on Oct. 3 after Trump shared on social media the name and photo of the judge’s top clerk and suggested she was politically biased. He had fined Trump $5,000 on Oct. 20 after a screenshot of the since-deleted post remained visible on Trump’s campaign site for weeks.

(Reporting by Jack Queen, Editing by Nick Zieminski and Jonathan Oatis)