The New York civil fraud trial against former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization was contentious from the start of Friday’s session as Trump’s defense lawyer focused on potential bias from the bench.
On Thursday, Breitbart detailed political activity on the part of law clerk Allison Greenfield in support of Democrats.
Noting that Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron has been passing notes back and forth with Greenfield during the trial, Trump attorney Christopher Kise said the interactions have created a “perception of bias,” according to The New York Times.
After citing the Breitbart report, Kise said “the defense will have to give serious consideration to seeking a mistrial.”
Engoron replied that he was “worried about this,” according to The Daily Beast.
“To the extent that there is the perception of bias,” Kise said, he had an obligation “as a lawyer … at least mark it.”
The judge “promised not to pound the table again, the bench,” but said he had an “unfettered right to get assistance” from Greenfield, who sits next to him. He said “no idea” how that could indicate bias.
“You can say whatever you want about me. And that has been taken advantage of. I think that’s where there would be any appearance of bias, but I cut this case right down the middle,” said Engoron, who is a Democrat.
Kise said the trial was “treading in a dangerous area here.”
“The entire country, if not the world, is watching this proceeding,” he said. “And the U.S. heretofore has been a model for integrity and impartiality in the judicial system, since its founding. Nothing in here should create any appearance that the adherence to those principles has wavered.”
He said Engoron was “entitled to receive [assistance], but from someone who has potentially demonstrable bias … and the manner in which that has taken place, we at least have to make a record.”
Kise touched off a reaction by saying the allegations from the Breitbart report were “delivered to the court” Friday morning and said he might move for a mistrial given that “information” about “extrajudicial conduct” had been raised before.
“It’s not information, it’s an allegation,” Engoron replied, saying he had not seen the Breitbart report, later calling the claim he knew about the article “absolutely untrue, OK?”
“I would have remembered receiving such an allegation,” he said, adding, “Let everybody in the room decide what they think of Breitbart. … It’s a shame things have descended to this level.”
The Breitbart report said Greenfield “appears to have violated judicial rules preventing officers of the court from making excessive political donations.”
It cited a 72-page complaint about her actions that was filed by a Wisconsin man named Brock Fredin.
The report said the complaint “notes that Greenfield has engaged in giving political donations to Democrat candidates and causes in excess of the amount of donations that court officials in New York are allowed to give on an annual basis.”
On Thursday, Engoron had replied to Kise’s questions about Greenfield with a threat to expand the gag order he has issued in the trial to include Trump’s lawyers and ban them from speaking about court employees.
Kise had said the note-passing made it appear Greenfield was “co-judging” the trial, leading Engoron to snipe back that there “may be a bit of misogyny” in attacks on Greenfield.
After completing his testimony on Friday, Eric Trump said the civil trial was “a joke, it’s an absolute joke,” according to the New York Post.
“This is a big charade that is a huge waste of taxpayer money and it’s the very reason everyone’s moving out of New York state, and I was actually one of them,” the former president’s son said.