Former President Donald Trump now owes at least a $ 150,000 fine for contempt of court resulting from his failure to cooperate with New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil fraud investigation in its business practices and there is still no indication of when the fines will stop increasing.
Trump has been trying to dismiss James’s investigation for nearly two years now, although her attorneys have done little to challenge the evidence James says she came in.Instead, they mostly reacted with procedural hurdles and delays. In December, James’s office personally served Trump with a subpoena over documents relating to his possible involvement in a number of asset assessments, and his attorneys have apparently dragged their feet on the request ever since. On April 25, Trump he was deemed personally despised of the judge for not having correctly complied with the summons. New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron agreed with James’s request to fine Trump $ 10,000 per day. On the one hand, it’s not that big of a sum for a billionaire. But it is a figure that, day after day, has really begun to be reckoned with.
As was the case with almost all decisions during the fight with James, Trump’s lawyer challenged the decision in contempt and demanded that the fines be suspended until the appeal was resolved. But last week, a judge in the New York State First Division (the state appellate court) denied the stay, meaning that daily fines of $ 10,000 will continue to pile up until the appeals court. will not overrule the outrage sentence or Trump will not meet the requirements of the subpoena.
This isn’t the only legal battle where Trump has tried to use delay tactics, and the strategy has worked well for him in some of those other cases. Then Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance launched a grand jury investigation into Trump in 2019, and Trump’s lawyers repeatedly challenged legal decisions in the case, twice bringing questions to the US Supreme Court. Trump’s team has lost almost all of these appeals. but Vance’s term as elected district attorney ended late last year and his successor, Alvin Bragg, appears to have no appetite for prosecuting a criminal case against Trump.
Last week’s superior court decision to deny Trump’s request to suspend fines for outrage changes the calculation for pursuing the appeal, says Alexander Reinert, a professor of law at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. New York City. This is because further delays in the legal process could now come at a high cost to Trump.
“The reason they tried to get the stay was because they didn’t face that significant risk of going through with the appeal, with the $ 10,000 a day for each day the appeal is pending,” he says. “If they had gotten the suspension, the downside risk of losing on appeal is less significant.”
Appeals aren’t necessarily quick, Reinert says, and there’s no telling how long it will take the appeals court to make a decision on the outrage sentence.
“Appeals generally take while in the New York State justice system,” he warns.
And, says Reinert, it’s extremely difficult to predict how the roll call will turn out. Despite its prevalence in television courtroom dramas, real-life judges don’t despise people as often.
“I think it’s a last resort remedy in general for the courts,” says Reinert. “They would prefer many parties to obey their orders. So the fact that a judge has to issue an outrage order means that to some extent the system has collapsed ”.
There is no empirical data on the frequency with which appeals against outrage sentences are revoked. James called for the contempt sentence in early April, after Trump failed to provide the documents his office had requested since December. The list of sued documents includes information from personal cellphones used by Trump in the years prior to running for president and any handwritten notes or post-it notes Trump may have created while discussing the issue of how much he and the company are worth. he. James’s investigation centers on whether Trump may have committed fraud by allegedly overstating his net worth when attempting to obtain loans and insurance coverage and underestimating his various assets when dealing with tax authorities in New York state and elsewhere. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, says the documents simply do not exist or are not in Trump’s personal possession. But after hearing both sides, Engoron sided with James, writing in an April 25 decision that the Attorney General’s office “met the burden of proving that Mr. Trump voluntarily disobeyed a court order. “. Engoron told Habba that she needed to see not only an affidavit stating that Trump doesn’t have the documents James asks for, but also details of who searched for them and what they looked like. If the documents don’t exist, Trump must do more to prove that he really did try to locate them, Engoron said.
Trump’s lawyers took two stab wounds in an attempt to “eliminate” the contempt, essentially to prove to the judge that he actually cooperated. On Friday, Engoron turned down their initial attempt. Trump had filed a signed affidavit saying he had no record that James wanted, but Engoron noted that there was still no information on who searched for the various items requested and how hard they searched.
“Mr. Trump’s personal affidavit is completely devoid of useful details,” Engoron wrote.
Over the weekend, Trump’s attorneys unveiled a fresh attempt to stamp out the contempt, this one containing far more detailed accounts of how they searched the documents, but still left some weird holes. For example, Habba wrote that Trump currently has two cell phones, an iPhone and one recently given to him by his social media startup TruthSocial, but neither has any relevant information on it. Habba said no one knew where the cell phones issued by Trump’s company were before he became president. James’s lawyers replied on Monday that this was not an acceptable answer: if no one knows where Trump’s phones are, someone should explain how they got lost.
Habba also claimed in his filing that he personally searched all drawers and clothes at both Trump’s country club in New Jersey and Trump’s personal residence in Mar-a-Lago. Engoron has yet to comment on this second attempt to eliminate the sentence of contempt.
Until Engoron is satisfied or an appeals court overturns his outrage, the $ 10,000 fines will continue to add up. Reinert says it is generally not necessary to make a payment until a final amount is reached, but it also depends on how much money is at stake. It is possible, he says, that if the number starts to get very large, the court could order Trump to deposit at least part of the accumulated total in an escrow account. And while the defeated president has a well-documented history of making it as difficult as possible for his creditors to collect their money, Reinert says that if the contempt sentence is not overturned and a final sum is ultimately determined, Trump will not be able. di to avoid paying.
“To the extent that he has assets in New York, he has to pay,” Reinert says. “He will be collected,”