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‘Decline to sign’: Trump is now trying to derail NY attorney general’s fraud case by suing judge who wrote his arguments were ‘completely without merit’

Donald Trump, Arthur Engoron

President Donald Trump speaks on Aug. 24, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File), Judge Arthur Engoron (CUNYQueensborough/YouTube screengrab)

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump have sued the judge presiding over the civil fraud lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) in an apparent bid to throw a wrench into the fast-approaching trial.

The move came days after Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron bluntly rejected the Trump team’s arguments that Letitia James has displayed a “callous disregard” of a First Judicial Department Appellate court’s ruling on the statute of limitations for certain claims.

On Sept. 5, Trump’s lawyers filed a memorandum in support of their contention that trial should be delayed.

The appellate division’s “unequivocal mandate has placed the Court in an extraordinarily untenable position and impeded the ability of the Defendants to prepare adequately for trial,” the filing said. “The First Department issued a unanimous modification of this Court’s Decision and Order on Defendants’ respective Motions to Dismiss the Complaint. Any claim to the contrary, or that the text of the First Department’s Decision and Order explaining that modification is dicta, is simply frivolous.”

“The Court and the Defendants are entitled to know the issues to be tried by the NYAG before the trial commences.” the memo continued.

The lawyers further asserted that James “created unjustifiable ambiguity, interfered with the orderly pre-trial process, and exposed the Court and the Defendants to the prospect of a needlessly-protracted trial by her refusal to acknowledge the First Department’s statute-of-limitations ruling” on  “time-barred claims.”

What are those claims? The filing pointed to 10 lending transactions, only two of which “may proceed to trial” against “corporate-entity Defendants,” rather than the “individual Defendants and the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust.”

“There is simply no dispute that: (i) seven of the ten transactions involving lending were completed before July 13, 2014; (ii) one of the transactions involving lending was never consummated; and (iii) the two remaining transactions involving lending were completed before the cutoff date for timely claims against those Defendants not subject to the Tolling Agreement, i.e., February 6, 2016,” the lawyers wrote. “Thus, the First Department limited substantially both the number of claims to be adjudicated at trial and the number of parties and counsel required to prepare for and participate in such trial.”

The memo argued that neither Engoron nor James is “free to ignore” the appellate court’s “mandate.”

“A trial of this magnitude should not begin in chaos. The Court and the Defendants are entitled to know the claims and issues to be tried sufficiently in advance to prepare adequately for trial,” Trump’s lawyers concluded. “The Appellate Order is dispositive of many of the NYAG’s claims and significantly reduces the scope of issues to be tried, thus shortening the length of the trial.”

A proposed order was filed along with the memorandum.

The very next day, Engoron appeared so put off by the Trump team’s attempt to delay the coming trial that the judge only hand-wrote the following in pen when denying that proposed order: “Decline to sign; Defendants’ arguments are completely without merit.”

Judge Arthur Engoron to Trump's lawyers: "Decline to sign; Defendants' arguments are completely without merit."

Judge Arthur Engoron to Trump’s lawyers: “Decline to sign; Defendants’ arguments are completely without merit.”

On Sept. 8, Engoron proceeded to set a series of deadlines and rules for trial, set to begin on Oct. 2 and lasting into late December. Those coming deadlines formed part of the basis of the Trump team’s request for a stay pending the resolution of the “chaos”:

Given these facts and circumstances, including that the parties are presently required to (i) prepare and submit witness and exhibits lists, deposition designations, and proposed facts to be proven at trial; (ii) prepare and submit pre-trial motions on September 22, 2023; (iii) prepare for and attend the final pre-trial conference on September 27, 2023; and (iv) prepare for and attend the trial beginning on October 2, 2023, it is essential that the Court temporarily stay the trial pursuant to CPLR § 2201 so that it can resolve the chaos created by the NYAG’s abject refusal to follow the Appellate Order.

A Trump lawsuit under Article 78 against the judge and the attorney general followed this week, The Daily Beast first reported on Thursday. The New York Times reported later that the First Department’s Associate Justice David Friedman granted the request to put the trial on hold until after a five-judge appellate panel issues a decision during the week of Sept. 25 — several days ahead of the early October trial date.

The latest Trump legal action is distinct in form but similar in style to other efforts to have jurists taken to task or otherwise ousted from presiding over other pending cases.

Law&Crime reached out to Trump attorneys Alina Habba and Clifford Robert for comment. Law&Crime also reached out to the AG’s office.

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.