NEW YORK — An appellate judge on Thursday temporarily lifted a limited gag order issued against Donald Trump and his attorneys in the $250 million civil fraud case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
The temporary pause on the order allows Trump and his defense team to discuss the judge’s law clerk, pending further appellate review. The decision followed a hearing at the Appellate Division’s First Department before Judge David Friedman.
Friedman wrote after hearing arguments that the stay was being imposed in consideration of “constitutional and statutory rights at issue.”
Trump lawyer Christopher Kise argued that security concerns cited by New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, who is presiding over the fraud trial and issued the gag order against Trump on Oct. 3, are undermined because the judge allows news photographers to take pictures of his clerk.
“If I were concerned about my safety I wouldn’t be sitting there mugging for the camera repeatedly every time the cameras come in,” Kise argued to Friedman, noting that as Trump’s attorney for about a year, he has also received threats.
Kise also said it is not proper to impose a speech prohibition “based on an audience’s reaction.” He said Trump, who is running for president again in 2024, had a right to free speech for campaign purposes.
Engoron imposed a gag order on the former president for making public comments about the clerk that he believed endangered the clerk’s safety. The order was issued after Trump posted a photo of the employee on social media that the judge said led to threats.
The judge has fined Trump twice for a total of $15,000 for violating the gag order.
Trump’s attorneys were placed under a similar gag order barring them from referring to the court employee when making legal arguments about the fairness of the proceeding. Trump’s side has argued repeatedly that the law clerk is biased and that her role as a close adviser to Engoron poisons the lawsuit, which accuses Trump, his two adult sons, two other executives and his company of falsely inflating the values of assets on financial documents to get better terms from lenders and insurance firms. Trump denies wrongdoing.
Lisa Evans, an attorney arguing on behalf of Engoron, told the appeals court that the judge’s clerk is being inundated with messages that are causing concern after her phone number and other personal details were posted on social media by Trump supporters.
The lawyer said Trump does not have to make threats himself because his army of devotees are at the ready to do so, citing an attack on former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband and Trump’s incitement of the Jan. 6 insurrection as proof. “It is inciting action on behalf of those individuals who are loyal to Mr. Trump … it’s not political speech,” Evans argued. She said many of the messages aimed at the law clerk are antisemitic.
Daniel Magy, an attorney for James’s office, argued that the gag orders are reasonable because they are so limited. “Any party can make a statement about the judge, any party can make a statement about the attorney general and Mr. Trump has made many statements about [James] online and in the press.”
The two sides are expected to file written arguments this month. It’s not clear when a full appellate panel will rule on the case.
The New York gag order is the second imposed on Trump by a judge that has been suspended while an appeals court considers the issue.
In Washington, U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan barred Trump from making statements targeting witnesses, prosecutors or court staff involved with his upcoming trial on charges of conspiring to obstruct the results of the 2020 election. That gag order has been suspended while Trump’s legal team appeals Chutkan’s ruling.
A hearing in that appeal is scheduled for Monday.
Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.