Trump attacks backfire: Experts say NY gag order may “embolden” other judges to be “more aggressive”

New York Judge Arthur Engoron’s decision to impose a limited gag order on Donald Trump for his attacks against his clerk could embolden other judges to adopt a “more aggressive stance” when dealing with the former president, legal experts say.

Engoron issued a gag order, warning that he would not tolerate any personal attacks against his staff after Trump posted an image of his clerk on social media and claimed without any evidence that she is the “girlfriend” of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. 

“Schumer’s girlfriend, Alison R. Greenfield, is running this case against me,” Trump posted on his Truth Social platform. “How disgraceful! This case should be dismissed immediately!!” 

The judge rebuked Trump’s actions in court and forbade all parties from posting, emailing or speaking publicly about any members of his staff.

“Failure to abide by this … will result in serious sanctions,” Engoron said. 

Since his civil fraud trial started this week, the ex-president has hurled insults on social media and in front of cameras, targeting the judge and New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought a $250 million lawsuit accusing Trump and his adult sons of committing repeated fraud by inflating his wealth by hundreds of millions of dollars to obtain more favorable deals and loans.

“The courts are reluctant to silence him, but Judge Engoron just did, and I have to think that his order may embolden other judges to take a much more aggressive stance against Trump,  rather than be seen by their inaction as enablers of Trump’s diatribes against the judicial system and those serving in it,” Bennett Gershman, a former New York prosecutor and law professor at Pace University, told Salon. 

Engoron has already found Trump liable for fraud, issuing a ruling last week that said Trump and his co-defendants committed “persistent and repeated” in business dealings and called for the cancellation of his New York business certificates. The ongoing trial is centered on the remaining six claims brought by James. 

The outcome of the trial will play a crucial role in determining what lies ahead for the former president’s real estate empire in New York. However, this hasn’t deterred him from publicly attacking the judge overseeing his case and portraying it as part of a “corrupt” Democratic effort to undermine his campaign.

“Judge Engoron’s gag order drew a clear line for Donald Trump: Don’t come after my staff or there will be severe consequences,” V. James DeSimone, a California civil rights attorney, told Salon.

While the order is “not a precedent,” it serves as “a guiding light” for other judges to protect their staff from public disparagement and “predictable safety threats” from Trump’s followers, he added.

Trump’s “egregious and inflammatory tirades” against Engoron and James appear to be largely ignored since the judge and the AG want to appear indifferent and not be influenced by his rants, Gershman said. But if the proceeding was before a jury, the judge’s response would certainly be different.  

“He would impose a strict gag order against Trump saying anything that might undermine the integrity of the proceeding,” he added. “If Trump starts making comments that might be construed as inciting violence, then of course the judge’s response would be very different.”

Gershman explained that other judges are also dealing with issuing gag orders, including Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing Trump’s 2020 election subversion case in Washington D.C.

Even if Engoron’s order may prove to not be effective, the order is an “important, needed step aimed at safeguarding not only due process, but also the personal safety of his staff,” James Sample, a Hofstra University constitutional law professor, told Salon. 

“No other litigant in America could get away with the threats, and ad hominem attacks on prosecutors, witnesses, judges, and court staff that Mr. Trump regularly indulges,” Sample said. “Judge Engoron’s order will either reinforce acceptable boundaries and lead to compliance or, if there is no compliance, the order will serve as a paper trail demonstrating that Mr. Trump had ample notice that his actions would lead to consequences.”

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Trump also went after the clerk earlier this week as he commented outside the courtroom though he didn’t mention her by name, CNN reported

“And this rogue judge, a Trump hater,” Trump said. “The only one that hates Trump more is his associate up there. The person that works with him. She’s screaming into his ear almost every time we ask a question. A disgrace. It’s a disgrace.”

Trump has a track record of criticizing prosecutors and judges on social media. His previous attacks have resulted in Chutkan and New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg receiving death threats from his supporters.

But if Trump knowingly violates a court order, “it is contempt of court and that could mean jail time,” DeSimone said. “One has to wonder if Trump isn’t pushing the envelope to see if the judge will make him a candidate for martyrdom.”

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