'You were warned': Judge reprimands Trump's lawyers in New York AG's $250M fraud case

The case is currently scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 2.

September 22, 2023, 5:00 PM

A judge in New York expressed frustration at Donald Trump's defense counsel while considering sanctioning the defendants and their lawyers for making frivolous arguments in the state's civil case against the former president and others.

"When I first heard those arguments, I thought that was a joke," said Judge Arthur Engoron, who added that he has repeatedly ruled on and been upheld on some of the arguments rehashed by defense.

"The rule on sanctions is if you've been warned, don't do it. You were warned," Engoron said.

"As a lawyer, I have to make the arguments," Trump attorney Chris Kise told Engoron.

Kise earlier in the afternoon asked the judge to dismiss the case against Trump and the other defendants.

"What is happening here is what happens every day in complex business transitions," Kise said about the vast differences in appraisals for Trump's assets.

When Kise argued that no one was harmed by Trump's business dealings, Engoron offered a frank assessment.

"The fact that no one was hurt does not mean the case gets dismissed," Engoron said, adding that he believes that "fairness in the marketplace" was a victim of the defendants' actions.

A lawyer for the New York attorney general's office had earlier described "staggering" misrepresentations about the value of former President Donald Trump's properties and assets, arguing that Trump engaged in a prolonged "bait-and-switch" to lower his tax burden while inflating his assets to obtain favorable loan terms.

PHOTO: Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives on stage to speak during a 2024 presidential campaign rally, Sept. 20, 2023, in Dubuque, Iowa.
Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives on stage to speak during a 2024 presidential campaign rally, Sept. 20, 2023, in Dubuque, Iowa.
Scott Morgan/Reuters

"The court should not allow Mr. Trump to play it both ways," New York AG special litigation counsel Andrew Amer said at Friday's argument for summary judgment.

Engoron told the courtroom that he intends to issue a single ruling by Tuesday that would decide the three major issues at question, including the government motion for partial summary judgment -- which could allow Engoron to decide a portion of or the entire case without a trial -- and New York Attorney General Letitia James' request to impose legal sanctions on the defendants.

His ruling could define the scope of the $250 million civil trial scheduled to begin in downtown Manhattan on October 2, including if and how the trial proceeds, according to Engoron.

Twelve of Trump's assets -- including notable properties like Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago, 40 Wall Street, and his multiple golf courses -- took center stage in court, with the New York AG's office alleging that Trump engaged in deceptive practices to inflate their value. Amer argued that Trump disregarded professional appraisals, ignored legal restrictions, used erroneous data, and relied on contradictory accounting approaches to inflate their value.

"His perspective is light years away from what the estimated current value is," Amer said.

In his presentation, Trump's defense attorney Chris Kise alleged that the New York AG cherry picked appraisals to paint an unfair picture of Trump's business dealings, citing appraisals of 40 Wall Street and Mar-a-Lago that supported the claim that Trump was undervaluing his properties. Describing Trump as "master at finding value where others do not," Kise attempted to describe asset valuation as a subjective process.

"This is why billionaires are billionaires," Kise said of Trump's ability to see the value of his "trophy" properties.

Trump has denied all wrongdoing in the case and his defense is asking the judge to decide the case before trial based on what they argue is a lack of evidence.

By contrast, the AG's lawyers will ask the judge to find Trump and other defendants, including his adult sons and his family business, liable for fraud even before a jury starts hearing evidence.

James accused Trump, his children and his company of "grossly" inflating the former president's net worth by billions of dollars and cheating lenders and others with false and misleading financial statements.

The trial is currently scheduled to get underway on Oct. 2 and is expected to take about three months, according to Engoron. But the start of the trial could be delayed if a state appeals court upholds a last-minute legal challenge by Trump after the former president filed suit against the judge.

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