NEW YORK — A New York appeals court judge Thursday paused gag orders on Donald Trump and his lawyers that had prevented them from commenting on court staff in the civil fraud trial of the former president.
The order against Trump was issued on the trial’s second day by the presiding judge, Arthur F. Engoron, after Trump attacked the judge’s law clerk in a social media post accusing her of being a Democratic partisan. It prohibited Trump from any further attacks on the clerk and other court staff.
Trump has twice violated the order, incurring $15,000 in fines. The judge later issued a similar order against Trump’s lawyers, barring them from commenting on his private communications with court staff.
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This week, Trump’s lawyers challenged both of those orders in an appeals court and on Thursday, the appellate judge, David Friedman, paused them after an hourlong oral argument.
The decision left Trump free, for the moment, of all of the gag orders placed on him. This month, a federal appeals court temporarily froze the order issued against him in his election interference case in Washington.
About an hour after the New York gag orders were paused, Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, posted on social media attacking Allison Greenfield, the clerk, calling her a “Democrat Operative.”
Later, shortly before 7 p.m., Trump himself seized on the pause by posting a message on his Truth Social platform in which he called Greenfield “politically biased” and “out of control.”
Trump’s lawyer, Christopher M. Kise, praised the decision. “Fortunately the Constitution and the First Amendment protect everyone, including President Trump,” he said. “The public will again have full access to what is really taking place in this unprecedented trial.”
The New York gag orders will be evaluated by a full appellate panel, which may reimpose them. But in the meantime, Trump and his lawyers are again free to attack court staff, most prominently Greenfield, who since Trump’s original post has become a magnet for right-wing attacks on the case.
The schedule set by the appeals court means that the gag orders could remain paused for much of the remainder of the civil fraud trial, which stems from a lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James. The trial is expected to last until mid-December.
Engoron, who is a Democrat, had justified his own gag order against Trump by citing threats against his staff. He wrote this month that his chambers had received “hundreds of threatening phone calls, voicemails, emails, letters and packages.”
But Friedman seemed skeptical that Trump had said anything that would lead directly to threats against court staff. He repeatedly asked whether Trump had used specifically threatening language against Greenfield, who is also a Democrat, and seemed satisfied that the answer was no.
Friedman also appeared skeptical of Greenfield’s prominence at the trial, where she appears at the bench alongside the judge every day. He asked a lawyer appearing on Engoron’s behalf whether that practice was unusual. The lawyer, Lisa Evans, said that clerks did sometimes sit on the bench, and Friedman seemed to relent on that point, agreeing that was the case.
A lawyer for Trump, Alina Habba, praised the appellate court after the Thursday hearing and quickly took advantage of the development.
Greenfield “is in the judge’s ear time and time again,” Habba said. “If she had a real threat, she should get off the bench.”
Trump’s lawyers this week in a separate filing asked for a mistrial, saying that Engoron and Greenfield were biased against them. The gag order had barred Trump’s lawyers from publicly discussing some of the specifics of their arguments concerning Greenfield, but they will now be free to do so.
Last month, after the judge overseeing Trump’s federal election interference case briefly paused a gag order she had imposed on him, the former president used the window of opportunity to launch a spree of attacks against the people who had been off limits.
Three times in three days, he called the special counsel, Jack Smith, who had brought the case, “deranged.” Twice, he weighed in about testimony attributed to his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who could be a witness in the trial.
The violations prompted Smith’s team to ask the judge, Tanya S. Chutkan, to reinstate the gag order. She put the order back in place, though it has been frozen again as a federal appeals court considers whether Chutkan properly imposed it in the first place.
Engoron imposed his own gag order on Trump on Oct. 3, after the former president posted a picture of Greenfield with Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader. The image had originally appeared on Greenfield’s Instagram account.
Mocking her as “Schumer’s girlfriend,” Trump said that the case against him should be dismissed. After Engoron was alerted that day, Trump removed the post from social media.
Friedman appeared to agree with Trump’s lawyers that the gag orders had not been warranted. At one point, he seemed to indicate that he held Greenfield responsible for the former president’s social media post, given that the picture of her with Schumer had come from her own Instagram account.
“If you put something out in public and then it goes viral, who’s responsible for that?” he asked.
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