Seeing no way out of his bank fraud trial, Donald Trump took the major step on Wednesday of having his lawyers demand a mistrial—a far-fetched attempt to rid himself of the case that threatens to destroy his real estate empire and empty his bank accounts.
His legal team had been telegraphing the move for weeks, following their complaints about the way the judge has consistently rejected their meandering legal arguments and clamped down on their aggressive theatrics in court.
But the request, made in a 30-page court filing Wednesday morning, is a study in irony. Trump has spent years threatening to use his political power against his enemies and directing the anger of his loyalist MAGA battalion against Justice Arthur F. Engoron and his judicial clerk—only to now turn around and accuse the court of not respecting the sacred institution of justice.
The motion for a mistrial centers on his increasing annoyance with Allison Greenfield, an attorney who serves as the judge’s right hand legal adviser—and one who has repeatedly shut down the billionaire’s attempts to stymie the New York Attorney General’s investigation and delay tactics in court. Now that Engoron has issued gag orders preventing Trump from directly attacking her and court staff—a restriction that he has since expanded to include Trump’s legal team from also engaging in ferocious personal insults against her—defense lawyers are now crying foul.
“This appearance of bias threatens both Defendants’ rights and the integrity of the judiciary as an institution,” they wrote in court papers, claiming that “Greenfield’s unprecedented role in the trial and extensive, public partisan activities, would cause even a casual observer to question the court’s partiality. Thus, only the grant of a mistrial can salvage what is left of the rule of law.”
The request is, of course, up to Engoron himself—who isn’t likely to side with the very attorneys who have spent weeks trying to gin up drama in court in an attempt to relitigate the entire affair on appeal in New York state’s higher courts.
In their filing, Trump’s defense lawyers complained that Justice Engoron has contributed to a newsletter tied to the Long Island public high school where he graduated, The Wheatley School, where he is accused of sharing links to newspaper stories about the ongoing case. They also whined about the way Engoron has elevated Greenfield—a lawyer in her own right who is seeking a future position on the New York judiciary—and given her a prominent role in the decision-making process.
“The Principal Law Clerk is given unprecedented and inappropriate latitude,” they wrote. “Indeed, before the Court rules on most issues, the Court either pauses to consult with her on the bench or receives from her contemporaneous written notes. While a Justice of the Court no doubt has ample discretion to consult with his or her Law Secretaries, this unprecedented arrangement exceeds the outer limits of such discretion.”
While it’s true that judges rarely work alongside their law clerks in the prominent fashion that Engoron has done, few in the public realize that clerks often do the bulk of the legal research and draft court orders that are eventually edited and signed by their judges—a practice that goes all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Trump lawyers Alina Habba and Clifford Robert, who co-signed the mistrial request, decried what they called Greenfield’s “co-judging.”
A notable aspect of the latest Hail Mary attempt is that, from the start, the lawyers acknowledge that they are essentially ramming right past the judge’s restrictions against attacking Greenfield by filing a court document formally attacking her.
“Counsel are subject to a gag order apparently imposed to impede the issues herein presented from becoming public,” they wrote, before laying out allegations of improper politicking by the court employee.
Their most serious complaint alleges that Greenfield violated state judicial conduct rules that limit how much a court staff member can contribute to political causes. Habba and Robert pointed to state records that indicate the clerk spent $3,360 last year and $1,001 so far this year on various Democratic clubs across New York City.
However, while judicial rules governing court employees set a yearly cap on political spending at $500, a decades-old court ruling actually carves out an exception for law clerks running for judge that allows them to pass the limit as long as they money is spent on their own campaign.
AG Letitia James’ office responded to the mistrial attempt with a statement shrugging it off as nothing but another ploy.
“Once again, Donald Trump is trying to dismiss the truth and the facts, but the numbers and evidence don’t lie. Donald Trump is now being held accountable for the years of fraud he committed and the incredible ways he lied to enrich himself and his family. He can keep trying to distract from his fraud, but the truth always comes out,” her office said.