(NEW YORK) — As New York Attorney General Letitia James prepares to call Donald Trump to the witness stand in his $250 million civil fraud case Monday, lawyers for the former president have doubled down on their criticism of the law clerk who sits beside the judge in the courtroom.
“I do feel like truly that I’m fighting two adversaries,” Trump attorney Chris Kise said Friday in court, referring to both the cadre of state lawyers and Engoron’s legal clerk, who is frequently seen whispering in the judge’s ear.
The clerk, Allison Greenfield, has been the subject of the Trump team’s ire since the second day of the trial, when Trump made a comment on his Truth Social platform suggesting that the clerk was “running this case against me,” and shared a photo of her, about which he made a false claim.
Engoron responded by imposing a limited gag order prohibiting public statements about his staff — which Trump has violated twice, to the tune of $15,000 in fines.
After Kise made a comment about Greenfield in court on Thursday, Engoron raised the possibility of expanding the gag order to apply to lawyers, and suggested that Kise might be a misogynist. Undeterred, Kise raised the issue in court again on Friday, citing an unsubstantiated report about Greenfield’s “partisan political activity.”
“I think the defense will have to give serious consideration to seeking a mistrial,” Kise said, appearing to further irritate Engoron, who has the sole authority to decide the outcome of the trial and, to some extent, the fate of The Trump Organization.
Trump and the other defendants in the case have denied all wrongdoing.
‘I don’t want anybody killed’
More than two weeks after Engoron imposed his limited gag order, which was accompanied by Trump removing his Truth Social post referencing Engoron’s clerk, it was discovered that a copy of the post that had been published to Trump’s campaign website had not been removed.
That resulted in a $5,000 fine against Trump for violating the gag order.
“Incendiary untruths can, and in some cases already had, lead to serious physical harm,” Engoron said regarding the penalty.
When Trump appeared in court the following week, he appeared to once again reference Greenfield during a hallway statement.
“This judge is a very partisan judge, with a person who’s very partisan sitting alongside of him, perhaps even much more partisan than he is,” Trump said.
While Kise told the judge that Trump was referring to Michael Cohen — who was on the witness stand that day to Engoron’s left — the judge was unconvinced and called Trump to the stand to questioned him directly.
“I think she is very biased against us. I think we made that clear. We put up a picture and you didn’t want that up,” Trump said on the witness stand, maintaining that his statement referred to Cohen.
Engoron fined Trump $10,000 for the hallway statement, finding that Trump’s testimony rang “hollow and untrue.”
“I am very protective of my staff, as I should be,” Engoron said. “I don’t want anybody killed.”
Engoron later said that his chambers has received “hundreds of harassing and threatening phone calls, voicemails, emails, letters, and packages” since the start of the trial.
‘I am entitled to make a record’
Over the last week of the trial, Trump’s lawyers have continued to complain about Greenfield, suggesting she is biased and that her whispered comments to Engoron are a distraction. The judge and Greenfield have routinely passed each other notes about the proceedings over the course of the trial.
Kise said that he witnessed Engoron and Greenfield pass each other over 30 to 40 notes on Thursday alone.
“That gives off the appearance of impropriety. It does. I am entitled to make a record of that,” Kise said. He has also argued that Trump should have the right to express what he perceives as bias.
“Sometimes I think there may be a bit of misogyny in the fact that you keep referring to my female principal law clerk,” Engoron told Kise.
“I assure you that’s not the issue,” responded Trump lawyer Alina Habba. “I have the same, frankly, issues with the person sitting on the bench, and I’ve made that clear on the record.”
Trump’s attorneys have also alleged that Engoron and Greenfield communicate with each other more frequently when the defense team is questioning witnesses than when the state is.
“It is incredibly distracting when there are eye-rolls and constant whispering at the bench,” Habba said about Greenfield during the testimony of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.
Citing her own experience as a judicial clerk, Habba argued that most clerks are less directly involved in proceedings than Greenfield.
However, in the New York State Supreme Court system, principal law clerks such as Greenfield play a different role than law clerks in other court systems, according to court records. In the state’s Supreme Court system, the position of principal law clerk generally serves as a training ground for future judges.
According to job posting for a similar role, principal law clerks in New York State Supreme Court require five years of relevant legal experience and are responsible for “conferring with and advising the judge on legal issues” and “conferring with lawyers on unusual or complex proceedings.”
Compared to federal law clerks — who generally serve in the role immediately after graduating from law school — Greenfield has over a decade of experience practicing law, including roles in the private sector and in the New York City Law Department.
Engoron himself served as the law clerk to New York Supreme Court Judge Martin Schoenfield for 11 years before ascending to the bench.
“I have an absolute, unfettered right to get advice from my principal law clerk,” Engoron said Friday.
‘It raises questions of impartiality’
Things appeared to come to a head on Friday when Kise brought up the possibility of seeking a mistrial as a result of Greenfield and the judge’s actions.
Citing a Brietbart article which he acknowledged he did not fully read, Kise raised concerns about an Oct. 3 letter to Engoron that accused Greenberg of “ethical violations” related to “highly partisan speech and activities on behalf of the Democrat Party.”
“It raises questions of impartiality,” Kise said.
Engoron responded that he did not receive the letter and found that the report Kise cited was “99%” untrue. A lawyer for the attorney general described Kise’s argument as a “sideshow” intended to interrupt the state from entering documents into evidence.
The letter cited by Brietbart was sent to the court by Brock Fredin, a Wisconsin man who runs the social media account @JudicialProtest, which made the original post containing the photo of Greenfield that Trump posted, leading to the original gag order. Fredin told ABC News that he sent the letter on Oct. 3 to Engoron and the lawyers in the case, though he did not get confirmation it was received.
The letter, which ABC News reviewed, largely concerned Greenfield’s campaign as a Democrat for a seat on the Manhattan Civil Court. In court, Engoron said the allegations were “99 percent” untrue and without merit. A court spokesperson described the letter as “not a serious complaint.”
“The Court is in receipt of a 72-page complaint from an individual from Wisconsin and will address it as we deal with any such complaint,” a court representative later told ABC News.
Engoron said he plans to continue to consult Greenfield during the proceedings.
“I don’t want any other comments about my staff or how I communicate with them,” Engoron said on Friday. “I will continue to receive notes, consultation of any sort from my staff.”
At the end of proceedings Friday, Kise reiterated his intent to continue objecting to interactions between Engoron and Greenfield for his future appeal.
In response, Engoron extended his gag order to also apply to lawyers in the case, prohibiting them from making statements regarding communications between him and his clerk.
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