Trump appeals penalty of $454M

Reversal sought in N.Y. fraud case

FILE - Former U.S. President Donald Trump, with lawyers Christopher Kise and Alina Habba, attends the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York,  Jan. 11, 2024. Trump lawyers filed a notice of appeal Monday, Feb. 26, for his $454 million New York civil fraud judgment, challenging a judge's finding that he lied about his wealth as he grew the real estate empire that launched him to stardom and the presidency. (Shannon Stapleton/Pool Photo via AP, File)
FILE - Former U.S. President Donald Trump, with lawyers Christopher Kise and Alina Habba, attends the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York, Jan. 11, 2024. Trump lawyers filed a notice of appeal Monday, Feb. 26, for his $454 million New York civil fraud judgment, challenging a judge's finding that he lied about his wealth as he grew the real estate empire that launched him to stardom and the presidency. (Shannon Stapleton/Pool Photo via AP, File)


NEW YORK -- Donald Trump has appealed his $454 million New York civil fraud judgment, challenging a judge's finding that he lied about his wealth as he grew the real estate empire that launched him to stardom and the presidency.

The former president's lawyers filed notices of appeal Monday asking the state's midlevel appeals court to overturn Judge Arthur Engoron's Feb. 16 verdict in Attorney General Letitia James' lawsuit and reverse staggering penalties that threaten to wipe out Trump's cash reserves.

Trump's lawyers wrote in court papers that they're asking the appeals court to decide whether Engoron "committed errors of law and/or fact" and whether he abused his discretion or "acted in excess" of his jurisdiction. A notice of appeal starts the appeals process in New York. Trump's lawyers will have an opportunity to expand on their grievances in subsequent court filings.

Trump wasn't required to pay his penalty or post a bond in order to appeal, and appealing won't automatically halt enforcement of the judgment.

The Republican presidential front-runner has until March 25 to secure a stay, a legal mechanism pausing collection while he appeals. Trump would receive an automatic stay if he puts up money, assets or an appeal bond covering what he owes. Trump's lawyers could also ask the appeals court to grant a stay without obtaining a bond or with a bond for a lower amount.

There was no indication on the court docket Monday that Trump had already posted an appeal bond or asked for a stay. His lawyers did not immediately respond to a reporter's questions Monday asking if he had posted a bond or if he was in the process of securing one.

In a statement issued through a spokesperson, Trump lawyer Alina Habba addressed only the appeal itself, saying: "We trust that the Appellate Division will overturn this egregious fine and take the necessary steps to restore the public faith in New York's legal system."

Engoron found that Trump, his company and top executives, including his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr., schemed for years to deceive banks and insurers by inflating his wealth on financial statements used to secure loans and make deals. Among other penalties, the judge put strict limitations on the ability of Trump's company, the Trump Organization, to do business.

The appeal ensures that the legal fight over Trump's business practices will persist into the thick of the presidential primary season and likely beyond as he tries to clinch the Republican presidential nomination in his quest to retake the White House.

If upheld, Engoron's ruling will force Trump to give up a sizable chunk of his fortune. Engoron ordered Trump to pay $355 million in penalties, but with interest the total has grown to nearly $454 million. That total will increase by nearly $112,000 per day until he pays.

Trump said Engoron's decision, the costliest consequence of his recent legal troubles, was "election interference" and "weaponization against a political opponent." Trump complained that he was being punished for "having built a perfect company, great cash, great buildings, great everything."

Trump's lawyer Christopher Kise said after the verdict that the former president was confident the appeals court "will ultimately correct the innumerable and catastrophic errors made by a trial court untethered to the law or to reality."

Trump wasn't able to appeal the decision immediately because the clerk's office at Engoron's courthouse had to file paperwork known as a judgment to make it official. That was done Friday, starting a 30-day window for Trump to pay up or file an appeal and seek a stay.

If Trump were to pay the penalty at this stage instead of obtaining a stay, the money would be held in a court escrow account while the appeal plays out. If the court overturns the verdict, the money would be returned to Trump.

During the trial, Trump's lawyers accused Engoron of "tangible and overwhelming" bias. They've also objected to the legal mechanics of James' lawsuit. Trump contends that the law she sued him under is a consumer-protection statute that's normally used to rein in businesses that rip off customers.

Trump's lawyers have long argued that some of the allegations against him are barred by the statute of limitations, contending that Engoron failed to comply with an Appellate Division ruling last year that he narrow the scope of the trial to weed out outdated accusations.

If Trump is unsuccessful at the Appellate Division, he can ask the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, to consider taking his case.

GAG ORDER SOUGHT

Prosecutors in Trump's New York hush-money criminal case asked a judge Monday to impose a gag order on the former president ahead of next month's trial, citing what they called his "long history of making public and inflammatory remarks" about people involved in his legal cases.

The Manhattan district attorney's office is asking for what it described as a "narrowly tailored" order that would bar Trump from making or directing others to make public statements about potential witnesses and jurors, as well as statements meant to interfere with or harass the court's staff, prosecution team or their families.

The district attorney's office is also seeking approval to show jurors the infamous "Access Hollywood" video, made public in the final weeks of Trump's 2016 White House campaign, in which he bragged about grabbing women's genitals without asking for permission.

Prosecutors contend that the release of the 2005 footage, followed by a flurry of women coming forward to accuse Trump of sexual assault, hastened his efforts to keep negative stories out of the press, leading to one of the hush-money arrangements at the heart of the case.

Trump's lawyers wrote in court papers Monday that the "Access Hollywood" video "contains inflammatory and unduly prejudicial evidence that has no place at this trial about documents and accounting practices."

The judge, Juan Manuel Merchan, didn't rule immediately on the requests. Jury selection is scheduled to start March 25. Barring a last-minute delay, it will be the first of Trump's four criminal cases to go to trial.

Imposing a gag order on Trump would add to restrictions put in place after his arraignment last April that prohibit him from using evidence in the case to attack witnesses. Prosecutors are also proposing that the names of jurors be kept from the public to "minimize obstacles to jury selection and protect juror safety."

Without limits, prosecutors said, Trump's rhetoric would "create a significant and imminent threat to the trial by distracting personnel, diverting government resources and delaying the administration of justice."

A spokesperson for Trump's presidential campaign called the gag order request "election interference pure and simple" and called the hush-money case a "sham orchestrated by partisan Democrats desperately attempting to prevent" Trump from returning to the White House.

Trump lawyer Susan Necheles said the defense will respond in court papers later this week.

The Manhattan case centers on allegations that Trump falsified internal records kept by his company to hide the true nature of payments made to his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. The lawyer paid porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 as part of an effort during Trump's 2016 presidential campaign to bury claims that he'd had extramarital sexual encounters.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records, a felony punishable by up to four years in prison, though there is no guarantee that a conviction would result in jail time.

Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, has lashed out about the case repeatedly on social media, warning of "potential death & destruction" before his indictment last year, posting a photo on social media of himself holding a baseball bat next to a picture of District Attorney Alvin Bragg and complaining that Merchan is "a Trump-hating judge" with a family full of "Trump haters."

Trump is already under a similar gag order in his Washington, D.C., election interference criminal case and was fined $15,000 for twice violating a gag order imposed in his New York civil fraud trial after he made a disparaging social media post about the judge's chief law clerk. In January, a Manhattan federal judge threatened Trump with expulsion from court in a civil trial on writer E. Jean Carroll's defamation claims against him after he was heard saying "it is a witch hunt" and "it really is a con job."

"Self-regulation is not a viable alternative, as defendant's recent history makes plain," prosecutors wrote in court papers. Trump, they said, "has a longstanding and perhaps singular history" of using social media, campaign speeches and other public statements to "attack judges, jurors, lawyers, witnesses and other individuals involved in legal proceedings against him."

The requested gag order would not bar Trump from commenting about Bragg, an elected Democrat.

Still, prosecutors contend that Trump's enmity for Bragg -- including Truth Social posts calling Manhattan's first Black D.A. a "degenerate psychopath" who "hates the USA" -- has led to a spike in threats against the prosecutor and the district attorney's office.

Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Sisak and Eric Tucker of The Associated Press.


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