By Jack Queen and Jasper Ward
(Reuters) -A New York judge on Friday fined Donald Trump $5,000 for violating a gag order barring the former U.S. president from disparaging court staff during his civil fraud trial, warning that any future transgressions would bring “far more severe” sanctions including imprisonment.
Justice Arthur Engoron said a Trump social media post attacking the judge’s clerk – which was deleted from the former president’s Truth Social platform – had remained visible on his 2024 campaign website two weeks after an order was issued to take it down.
The judge noted that the gag order violation appeared inadvertent, but added, “Make no mistake: future violations, whether intentional or unintentional, will subject the violator to far more severe sanctions.”
Those sanctions, the judge said, could include steeper fines and possible imprisonment.
Engoron is presiding over the trial on civil charges brought by New York state Attorney General Letitia James accusing Trump of unlawfully inflating his net worth to dupe lenders.
Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in next year’s U.S. election, holding a commanding lead over his rivals despite mounting legal troubles and court-ordered restrictions on his public statements.
Engoron imposed a limited gag order on Oct. 3 after Trump in a social media post shared a photo of the judge’s top clerk posing with U.S. Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, a critic of the former president, and called her the senator’s “girlfriend.”
The judge in imposing the gag order said that comments directed at his staff were “unacceptable, inappropriate and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.”
Trump at times has appeared in person at the ongoing trial, attacking James and Engoron in inflammatory remarks to reporters outside of the courtroom.
The lawsuit by James accused Trump of inflating the values of his properties by billions of dollars in statements to banks, reaping hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten savings on loan interest. Trump is also accused of manipulating asset values to dupe insurers.
Trump, who has sought to portray the case as intended to hurt him politically, has denied wrongdoing and defended his asset valuations. He has said banks conducted their own due diligence and profited on the loans.
The trial, which began three weeks ago, has centered on reams of emails and financial documents detailing how Trump’s companies valued their properties.
Lawyers for the attorney general’s office have sought to show that those valuations were arbitrarily inflated to satisfy Trump’s desire for a high net worth. Trump’s attorney have argued they were reasonable and based on his real estate expertise.
Trump faces criminal charges in four other cases involving his efforts to undo his loss in the 2020 election, his handling of classified documents after leaving office and hush money paid to a porn star. Trump has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty in those cases. He also faces a January civil damages trial for defaming a writer who accused him of rape, which he denies.
On Oct. 17, a federal judge in Washington overseeing a federal case accusing Trump of illegally attempting to overturn his 2020 defeat barred Trump from making public statements that “target” U.S. prosecutors, court staff and potential witnesses involved in the case.
Trump is appealing that order.
(Reporting by Jasper Ward and Jack Queen; editing by Will Dunham and Noeleen Walder)