Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) sent a letter to the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct expressing "serious concerns" about the judge overseeing a civil fraud trial against former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization.
"This judge’s bizarre behavior has no place in our judicial system," she wrote, describing "inappropriate bias" and "judicial intemperance" in her Nov. 10 letter.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is suing President Trump for defrauding the state by artificially inflating his net worth in a trial that began on Oct. 2. A week before the trial, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron had granted the attorney general's office a summary judgment in their favor, finding President Trump liable for fraud.
As such, the bench trial—there is no jury under the statute prosecutors are using—will only deal with what penalties President Trump will need to face. Ms. James is asking for $250 million in damages and to bar the former president and other executives from doing business in the state for five years.
President Trump has attended the trial regularly, giving updates to the press when in court. In recent weeks, his attorneys have clashed with the judge, sometimes resulting in drawn-out arguments in court, with the defense attorneys accusing him of bias as he often allows the prosecution to ask questions he overrules for the defense, and other issues.
Ms. Stefanik echoed these concerns, pointing out that the defendant is a leading candidate for the presidency.
"It appears the judicial system is being politicized to affect the outcome of the campaign," she wrote.
"Judge Engoron has displayed a clear judicial bias against the defendant throughout the case, breaking several rules in the New York Code of Judicial Conduct."
Bias?Ms. Stefanik listed several items she believed pointed to bias, beginning a year ago, before the trial, when the judge told President Trump's attorney that President Trump was "just a bad guy."
She also accused him of ignoring an appellate court's ruling that set a statute of limitations on the case, smiling for the pool cameras, and the summary judgment he made before the trial began.
"And Judge Engoron has made it crystal clear he doesn’t care what the defendant or his attorneys have to say," Ms. Stefanik added, including a snapshot of just a few of the blows exchanged between defense attorneys and the judge, which were especially pronounced the day President Trump testified.
While on the witness stand, President Trump gave long and detailed answers about his properties, which the judge seemed not to like. He told his lawyers to "control" their client, and when attorney Chris Kise tried to explain the "extraordinary circumstances" they were in that might warrant these detailed answered, the judge said he was "not here to listen to what you [President Trump] have to say."
Justice Engoron told defense attorney Alina Habba, “I am not here to hear what he has to say, now sit down!” when she protested, and when Mr. Kise said he would file a motion for directed verdict, the judge said, "You better not, Chris!"
Gag OrderMs. Stefanik stated that Justice Engoron and his staff are Democrat donors, and the judge himself made a political contribution in 2018, which is against the rules of conduct. His principal law clerk, Allison Greenfield, has also made political contributions of $3,335 over 2022 and 2023, but the rules state that judges should prevent their staff from contributing to political campaigns more than $500 in any calendar year.
There is currently a gag order that prevents President Trump and his attorneys from making any comments about the judge's staff, which Ms. Stefanik claims is illegal.
Recently, President Trump made a comment about an unnamed "partisan" person sitting "alongside" the judge, prompting Justice Engoron to issue a $10,000 fine in what he believed was a violation of the gag order.
Ms. Stefanik said such speech was "core political speech" protected by the First Amendment.
"If anyone in America must have the constitutional right to speak out against the judge, his staff, the witnesses, or the process, it’s a defendant going through a process he believes is politicized and weaponized against him," she wrote, accusing the judge's order of being "un-American."
"It’s an illegal prior restraint on the defendant’s First Amendment rights."
RulingMs. Stefanik also weighed in on the trail evidence and ruling, arguing that no evidence was presented on trial to suggest fraud, and in fact "disputed material evidence" suggested the opposite.
"The defendant paid back the sophisticated Wall Street banks, on time, in full, with interest, as agreed. No insurance company paid a penny. And these banks and insurance companies, supposedly defrauded, continue to do business with the defendant," she wrote.
Indeed, two banks had done their own analyses of President Trump's net worth, as revealed in testimonies, and for some development projects the bank had courted President Trump's business, not the other way around. It was also revealed that the accounting firm Trump Organization had long worked with dropped the business as a client after being informed by the attorney general's office of the investigation, and wrote in their parting letter that they had not done any independent analyses or audits, and did not know of any fraud.
At the center of the case are the statements of financial condition Trump Organization prepared every year, which lists President Trump's total net worth and a summary balance sheet of his asset's values, which is not a standard document and was used as a marketing piece when he did deals.
Trump Organization had valued Mar-a-Lago between $426 million and $612 million in these statements, while Ms. James and the judge valued it at $18 million to $27.6 million, prompting ridicule from President Trump, who says the property could be worth more than $1 billion, a sentiment echoed by prominent real estate figures. One agent told the Associated Press the judge's claim was "ludicrous."
However, the judge had dismissed a sworn affidavit from Lawrence Moens, the top Palm Beach luxury broker, who said if he had the opportunity to market Mar-a-Lago, it would be sold to someone with "net worths in the multiple billions," the likes of Elon Musk, kings, emperors, and heads of state. Justice Engoron called the statement an "unsubstantiated dream," but admitted testimony from an expert on the attorney general's side who helped come up with the $250 million disgorgement figure, suggesting banks lost out on more than $100 million in interest because the financial statements were inflated.
Ms. Stefanik said the commission must "take corrective action to restore a just process and protect our constitutional rights," sanctioning and removing the judge from the case.
"This case is so much bigger than President Donald J. Trump. If Judge Engoron can railroad a billionaire New York businessman, a former president of the United States, and the leading presidential candidate, just imagine what he could do to all New Yorkers," she said, warning that the "lawlessness" of his actions could warn New York business owners away from the state.