Trump loses challenge to gag order in New York civil fraud case

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A New York state appeals court on Thursday denied Donald Trump’s bid to overturn a gag order restricting the former U.S. president from publicly talking about court staff in his New York civil fraud trial.

The judge overseeing the case, Justice Arthur Engoron, issued the gag order on Oct. 3 after the former U.S. president shared on social media a photo of the judge’s law clerk posing with U.S. Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and falsely called her Schumer’s girlfriend.”

The post left the court “inundated” with hundreds of threats made by Trump supporters, Engoron said.

Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, appealed the order last month, arguing it violated his constitutional right to free speech.

On Thursday, the mid-level state appeals court, known as the Appellate Division, said the gag order did not have a major impact.

“Here, the gravity of potential harm is small, given that the Gag Order is narrow, limited to prohibiting solely statements regarding the court’s staff,” the order read.

Chris Kise, a lawyer for Trump, said in a statement the decision “denies President Trump the only path available to expedited relief and places his fundamental Constitutional rights in a procedural purgatory.”

Testimony concluded on Wednesday in the trial over a lawsuit brought by the New York attorney general seeking to fine Trump at least $250 million and sharply curtail his ability to do business in New York – home to several of his iconic properties – for lying about his net worth to dupe lenders.

Engoron has already ruled that Trump’s financial statements were fraudulent, largely limiting the trial to damages. Engoron is expected to issue a verdict in writing after closing arguments on Jan. 11.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and called the case a “scam.”

The gag order was initially paused by a judge on Nov. 16 when Trump appealed, but a panel of judges reinstated it two weeks later.

The Appellate Division later on Thursday rejected Trump’s request for permission to appeal the reinstatement of the order to the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court.

Engoron fined Trump a total of $15,000 for twice violating the order.

Trump faces a raft of other legal troubles as he campaigns to face President Joe Biden in the November 2024 election, including four criminal cases. He has pleaded not guilty in all four.

None have diminished his commanding lead in polls over rivals for the Republican nomination.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New YorkEditing by Alistair Bell)