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Trump fined $5,000 for violating gag order in New York fraud trial

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The judge presiding over Donald J. Trump’s civil fraud trial fined the former president $5,000 Friday for a “flagrant violation” of a hush order imposed this month.

The judge, Arthur F. Engoron, did not go so far as to convict Mr. Trump of contempt, but warned that the former president still faced tougher penalties, even prison time, if he contravened again to the order.

In the early days of the trial, Judge Engoron barred Mr. Trump from attacking his judicial staff after the former president posted a photo on social media of Judge Engoron’s law clerk, Allison Greenfield, with Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader. Mr. Trump called Ms. Greenfield “Schumer’s girlfriend” and said she was “making this case against me.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Schumer this month called the social media post “ridiculous, absurd and false,” adding that the senator did not know Ms. Greenfield.

Mr. Trump’s post was removed from his social media platform, Truth Social, on October 3, the day Judge Engoron imposed the silence, but a copy of the post remained visible on his campaign website.

The post was ultimately removed from the website around 10 p.m. Thursday, after Judge Engoron became aware of it and contacted Mr. Trump’s legal team. A lawyer for Mr. Trump, Christopher M. Kise, said in court Friday that not deleting the post sooner was “inadvertent.” He apologized on behalf of Mr. Trump.

In a new order issued Friday, Judge Engoron said he imposed only a “nominal” fine of $5,000 because it was Mr. Trump’s first violation and a mistake unintentional, but he warned that additional infractions would merit harsher penalties.

“Make no mistake: future violations, whether intentional or not, will subject the violator to far more severe sanctions,” Judge Engoron wrote. He said possible sanctions included higher fines, holding Mr Trump in contempt of court and “possibly imprisoning him”.

The judge added that “in today’s overheated climate, inflammatory untruths can, and in some cases have already led, to serious physical injury or worse.”

Mr. Trump, who has frequently attacked judges, prosecutors and witnesses in civil and criminal cases against him, is subject to limitations on his speech not only in the Manhattan fraud case but also in a federal case in which he is accused of attempting to subvert the law. the results of the 2020 elections.

The judges overseeing these cases must balance respecting the First Amendment rights of a man running again for the White House with maintaining order and dignity in their courts.

They also need to consider what would be an effective – and deterrent – ​​punishment for a man who estimates his net worth in the billions.

In the gag order, Judge Engoron said personal attacks against his staff were “unacceptable” and that he “would not tolerate them under any circumstances”.

It banned any messages, emails or public remarks regarding members of its staff, adding that serious sanctions would follow for disobedience.

Both his order of silence and that imposed by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, the federal judge in Washington overseeing the election case, leave Mr. Trump wide latitude to comment.

Judge Chutkan’s written order prevents Mr. Trump from making public comments aimed at his staff, Special Counsel Jack Smith and his employees, as well as “any reasonably foreseeable witnesses.”

But Mr. Trump remains free to criticize his political opponents, the judges themselves and an American justice system that he has called rigged against him.

Mr. Trump also took aim at Letitia James, the New York attorney general, who filed a civil fraud suit against him, his adult sons and their family business.

Ms James accused them of fraudulently inflating Mr Trump’s net worth to obtain favorable bank loans. The trial will continue next week with testimony from Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer turned nemesis.

Mr. Trump himself was absent on Friday, but he attended the trial earlier in the week, using the camera-lined hallway outside the courtroom to issue periodic statements about his legal affairs and questions policies.

In person, he did not come close to violating Judge Engoron’s order.

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nytimes

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