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Trump must pay $110,000 to New York AG for contempt in fraud probe, appellate court rules

Left: Letitia James, wearing a red shirt, dark jacket, and pearl necklace, discusses Donald Trump's financial dealings at a press conference. Right: Donald Trump, wearing a white shirt, dark suit jacket, and a red "Make America Great Again" hat, speaks into a microphone.

Left: New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a press conference regarding ex-President Donald Trump and his family’s financial fraud case on Sept. 21, 2022 in New York (photo by YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images). Right: Donald Trump speaks at a ‘Save America’ rally on Oct. 22, 2022 in Robstown, Texas (photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images).

A New York appellate court has upheld a $110,000 contempt order against former President Donald Trump for flouting discovery orders in the state attorney general’s fraud investigation.

“Once again, the courts have ruled that Donald Trump is not above the law. For years, he tried to stall and thwart our lawful investigation into his financial dealings, but today’s decision sends a clear message that there are consequences for abusing the legal system. We will not be bullied or dissuaded from pursuing justice,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement applauding the decision.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron imposed the contempt order before James formally filed her lawsuit. The judge eventually purged the order and capped the fine after Trump’s lawyers filed affidavits attesting that they performed a complete search.

A five-judge panel of New York’s Appellate Division, First Department, unanimously upheld the ruling.

The appeals court found that James determined by “clear and convincing evidence” that Trump’s insufficient response to the subpoena “prejudicially violated the lawful, clear mandate of the court, of which he had knowledge.”

“The court correctly found, and adequately recited, that that violation was calculated to, and actually did, impair [the New York attorney general]’s rights or remedies,” the ruling states.

A representative for Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Judge Engoron issued his initial ruling almost a year ago in April 2022, banging his gavel with the pronouncement of the penalty.

“Mr. Trump, I know you take your business seriously, and I take mine seriously,” the judge said at the time.

Habba later used the exchange to accuse the judge of a “dramatic” display of bias.

“The tactics employed by this Court, including the dramatic pounding of the gavel, the statements directed to our client from the bench, and direct comments to the press have reduced this hearing to the likes of a public spectacle,” Habba told Law&Crime at the time.

The appellate panel affirmed that Engoron’s rulings were appropriate.

“We further find that the financial sanction to compel compliance was a proper exercise of the court’s discretionary power and was not excessive or otherwise improper, under the particular circumstances,” the appellate court said.

Since Engoron’s April 2022 ruling, Trump and his legal team have been under continuing fire for their courtroom tactics. A federal judge in Florida issued a nearly $1 million fine over Trump’s massive lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and dozens of other defendants, depicting allegations about the former president’s ties to Russia as a massive racketeering conspiracy. Trump continues to appeal that sanctions order, too.

Attorney General James followed up her investigation into the Trump Organization with a $250 million lawsuit accusing the former president, his adult children, and his businesses of fraud.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."