A New York judge on Friday rejected a request by former President Donald Trump and his co-defendants for a mistrial in the $250 million civil white collar fraud case against them.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron said arguments for a mistrial were “completely without merit” as he declined to sign the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case.
The ruling came two days after lawyers for Trump Sr., Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, the Trump Organization and their top executives argued that the case was undermined by political bias.
Defense attorneys claimed that Engoron and his senior law clerk had “tainted these proceedings” and that “only granting a mistrial can save what remains of the rule of law.”
But Engoron denied any allegations of bias in his ruling Friday and made clear he intends to lead the case to its conclusion.
“As expected, the court today refused to accept responsibility for failing to conduct this case impartially and without bias,” Trump lawyer Alina Habba said in a statement. “However, we remain undeterred and will continue to fight for our clients’ right to a fair trial.”
The lawsuit, filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, accuses the defendants of fraudulently inflating the value of Trump’s real estate and other assets over the years to obtain tax benefits, better loan terms and other financial benefits.
In addition to seeking $250 million in damages, James also wants to permanently ban Trump and his two adult sons from running a New York company.
Engoron has already convicted the defendants of fraud and ordered the cancellation of their New York business certificates. The trial, which will be conducted without a jury, will determine penalties and resolve James’ other allegations of wrongdoing by Trump and his co-defendants.
An appeals court has temporarily stayed the process of dissolving Trump’s business entities.
In Friday’s decision, Engoron went through all of the defendants’ arguments for a mistrial and explained why each argument was “meritless.”
Defense attorneys had pointed to articles that Engoron had linked to in his alumni newsletter, claiming they appeared inappropriate because they were related to the fraud case.
Engoron responded that he “did not write or contribute to any of the articles on which defendants focus, and no reasonable reader could think otherwise.”
He also shrugged off claims that he and his caseworker were “judging together,” writing, “My decisions are mine and mine alone.”
The employee has become such a target of criticism that Engoron has issued a gag order barring both Trump and his lawyers from making comments about her. Trump has already violated the narrow gag order twice and received a total of $15,000 in fines.
A New York appeals judge temporarily suspended those gag orders on Thursday, citing “questionable constitutional and legal rights.”
In their motion for a mistrial, defense attorneys also argued that the clerk’s presence in the case damaged her integrity because she has made donations to Democratic groups, including those that support the attorney general.
They also accused the clerk of making contributions above the $500 limit for New York judge employees.
But Engoron said Trump’s lawyers ignored that the clerk is a candidate for judge and therefore is not bound by the $500 limit when she donates to her own campaign or buys tickets to political events.
Engoron said it was “nonsensical” to assume that the clerk’s participation in events sponsored by political organizations suggests that she, and by proxy the judge himself, must therefore agree with the views of those groups.
“And in any case, they are a diversionary tactic since my senior law clerk does not make decisions or issue orders – I do,” Engoron wrote.
He noted that the Attorney General’s Office has requested a full briefing plan on the mistrial motion. But “in good conscience I cannot sign a proposed order to present a reason which is entirely without merit and which would therefore be pointless to inform later.”
The trial, which began last month, is expected to last until the end of December. Trump, a leading Republican presidential candidate, faces four pending criminal cases in addition to the fraud case and other civil cases.