The judge presiding over Donald Trump’s $250 million civil fraud trial on Friday imposed a partial gag order on members of the former president’s legal team after he said they made “on the record, repeated, inappropriate remarks” about his principal law clerk.
Judge Arthur Engoron’s order said that Christopher Kise, Clifford Robert and Alina Habba, lawyers for the former president and his adult sons, “are prohibited from making any public statements, in or out of court, that refer to any confidential communications, in any form, between my staff and me.”
“Failure to abide by this directive shall result in serious sanctions,” Engoron warned.
He said in his order that the three lawyers made remarks about his clerk, “falsely accusing her of bias against them and of improperly influencing the ongoing bench trial.”
The attorneys, he said, had alleged that it’s improper for a judge to consult with a law clerk during ongoing proceedings and that the passing of notes between them has the “appearance of impropriety.”
“These arguments have no basis,” Engoron said in his order.
Judge Arthur Engoron presides over former President Donald Trump’s fraud trial in New York on Oct. 3, 2023. Dave Sanders / Pool via AP file The judge said that he will “continue to consult with my staff, as is my unfettered right, throughout the remainder of the trial.”
He also stated that since the beginning of the bench trial, his chambers have been “inundated with hundreds of harassing and threatening phone calls, voicemails, emails, letters and packages.”
The order comes after the trial continued on Friday morning with Engoron arguing with Trump’s lawyers about the role of his law clerk. The judge pushed back on the Trump team’s argument that he’s too “intertwined” with his clerk, who passed him notes and sometimes whispered to him during testimony. Engoron said he spoke to another judge who had a similar relationship with a law clerk, and the clerk’s role is far from unprecedented, as Trump’s lawyers have claimed.
Kise responded, “Yes, as a judge you are entitled to receive advice. But if you are receiving advice in a way that is indicative of bias, we have to make a record” of it. “The rulings are frequently, if not inordinately, against us on every major issue,” Kise complained.
Kise, Robert and Habba did not immediately return a request for comment. Attorney General Letitia James’s office, which brought the case against the former president and his adult sons, also did not return a request for comment.
Before adjourning for the day on Thursday, Engoron got into a heated exchange with Kise after he made a reference to the judge’s law clerk. Engoron said, “There is a sense of misogyny” in how Kise referred to the clerk, who is a woman.
Kise also said about the judge and the law clerk, “I’ll wait again to get the note that you have from [the clerk.] You may have a question for me. Maybe it is about dinner.”
Engoron issued a partial gag order on Trump last month after he made disparaging remarks about the law clerk on social media and to reporters. He was fined twice for violating the gag order.
“Personal attacks on members of my court staff are unacceptable, inappropriate and I won’t tolerate it,” Engoron said.
Rebecca Shabad is a politics reporter for NBC News based in Washington.