New York judge in Trump's civil fraud trial issues $5,000 fine, threatens possible imprisonment over gag order violation

October 21, 2023

In former President Donald Trump's $250 million civil fraud trial in New York, the presiding judge issued a partial gag order earlier this morning after Trump harshly criticized the apparent partisan bias of the judge's chief law clerk.

On Friday, Judge Arthur Engoron accused Trump of violating that gag order and issued a $5,000 fine against him along with a threat of possible imprisonment for any future violations, according to Axios.

The fine and threat of prison came about after it was revealed that a social media post criticizing the clerk -- that Trump had previously deleted from his Truth Social account as ordered by the judge at the time of the gag order -- was still posted on Trump's campaign website.

Judge quite displeased over apparent violation of gag order

NBC News reported that an infuriated Judge Engoron ripped into former President Trump and his attorneys over the discovery on the campaign website of "an untrue and disparaging post about my clerk" and that he had previously "ordered him to remove the post immediately and he said he did take it down."

"Despite this order, last night I learned the offending post was never removed from a website. This is a blatant violation of the gag order. I made it clear [that] failure to comply will result in serious sanctions," he continued. "Incendiary untruths can and have led to serious physical harm. I will now allow the defendant to explain why this should not end up with serious sanctions or I could possibly imprison him."

Trump's attorneys argued that the deleted social media post still being found on the campaign website was a "truly inadvertent" mistake and that Trump himself had made every effort to abide by the judge's gag order.

"The Truth Social post was taken down when the court asked," lead attorney Chris Kise said. "Truth Social was taken down and Trump never made any more comments about court staff, but it appears no one took it down on the campaign website. It is unfortunate and I apologize on behalf of my client."

Fined and threatened with prison for future violations

That explanation from former President Trump's attorney may have spared him a contempt charge and possible jail time, but only just barely, according to the written order issued later by Judge Engoron.

In recounting what led to the October 3rd gag order, the discovery of the offending post on the campaign website, and the claim from counsel that it was an inadvertent mistake, the judge wrote, "Giving the defendant the benefit of the doubt, he still violated the gag order."

"Donald Trump has received ample warning from this Court as to the possible repercussions of violating the gag order. He specifically acknowledged that he understood and would abide by it," he continued. "Accordingly, issuing yet another warning is no longer appropriate; this Court is way beyond the 'warning' stage."

Engoron wrote that in light of the claim that the violation was inadvertent as well as the fact that this was a "first time violation," he decided to impose a "nominal fine" of $5,000 that must be paid within 10 days.

"Make no mistake: future violations, whether intentional or unintentional, will subject the violator to far more severe sanctions, which may include, but are not limited to, steeper financial penalties, holding Donald Trump in contempt of court, and possibly imprisoning him pursuant to New York Judiciary Law Sec. 753," the judge added.

One of two gag orders limiting Trump's speech

NBC News noted that Judge Engoron's partial gag order was just one of two such limitations on his free speech that former President Trump faces, with the other coming from U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is presiding over Special Counsel Jack Smith's federal prosecution of Trump over alleged crimes related to his challenging the results of the 2020 election.

Trump has appealed that gag order from Judge Chutkan as a violation of his First Amendment rights and, to her credit, Chutkan agreed to temporarily pause her gag order while the appeal is considered.

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