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Trump seeks recusal of judge who fined him $464M in civil fraud trial

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(NEW YORK) — Former President Donald Trump filed a motion Thursday to try to get the judge who oversaw his civil fraud trial in New York kicked off the case.

The motion alleges that Judge Arthur Engoron violated the rules governing how judges are supposed to behave.

Engoron in February ordered Trump to pay $464 million in disgorgement and pre-judgment interest after he found the former president and his adult sons liable for using “numerous acts of fraud and misrepresentation” to inflate his net worth in order to get more favorable loan terms. Trump has denied all wrongdoing and has appealed the decision in the case.

Trump’s attorneys said in Thursday’s filing that the judge “may have engaged in actions fundamentally incompatible with the responsibilities attendant to donning the black robe and sitting in judgment.”

The defense alleged Engoron spoke to a New York real estate attorney about the substance of Trump’s case, in violation of New York’s Code of Judicial Conduct. The filing cited a conversation between Engoron and lawyer Adam Leitman Bailey, who alleged he spoke with Engoron three weeks before the judge issued his decision in the case.

“I saw him in the corner [at the courthouse] and I told my client, ‘I need to go.’ And I walked over and we started talking,” Bailey told NBC New York, which first reported the story. “I wanted him to know what I think and why … I really want him to get it right.”

Bailey could not immediately be reached for comment. Al Baker, the court’s spokesperson said, “We have no further comment on this matter.”

In a statement to ABC News, Bailey pushed back on the allegation that his discussion with Engoron about the case was inappropriate or merits the judge’s recusal.

According to Bailey, their discussion only concerned Engoron’s September 2023 summary judgment order in which the judge determined Trump committed fraud.

“I did not think that speaking to Judge Engoron about my own personal views of his already published decision was wrong in any way,” Bailey said.

Bailey said he was “devasted” and “hurt” that his remarks could impact Engoron.

According to a filing today, defense lawyers are preparing to subpoena Bailey for information related to his discussion with Engoron. He told ABC News that he has not yet spoken with defense attorneys about his communications with Engoron.

Trump’s defense argued in their filing Thursday that Engoron should either recuse himself from the case or allow a hearing on the allegations.

“In sum, this Court appears to have proceeded not only in contravention of controlling law and the Constitution, but perhaps also contrary to the governing standards of judicial conduct,” the filing said.

Trump is already appealing the outcome of the civil fraud case to an intermediate appellate court, with the appeal due to be filed next month. If the appeal fails, Engoron would oversee payment of the financial penalty. He also oversees the monitor he imposed on the Trump Organization to assure the integrity of the company’s financial statements, which the trial determined inflated Trump’s wealth by as much as $2 billion.

In a statement, defense attorney Alina Habba said the allegations demonstrate that Engoron cannot fairly oversee the case.

“Justice Engoron’s communications with Attorney Adam Leitman Bailey regarding the merits of this case, however, directly violate that code and demonstrate that Judge Engoron cannot serve as a fair arbiter. It is clear that Judge Engoron should recuse himself immediately,” Habba said.

In a separate statement, defense attorney Chris Kise said Engoron’s recusal is the only way to preserve the court’s reputation.

“The staggering $464 million judgment entered against President Trump in a case with no victims, no fraud, no loss and no harm to any public or private interest has already imperiled public confidence in the integrity of the New York legal system. Now serious allegations of prohibited communications between the judge and a third party are under active investigation by the Judicial Conduct Commission. Thus, the Court has proceeded not only in contravention of controlling law and the Constitution, but perhaps also contrary to the governing standards of judicial conduct,” Kise said.

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