Trump demands recusal of NY civil fraud judge over chat with outside lawyer

Attorneys for former President Trump demanded Thursday that the judge who oversaw his civil fraud trial recuse himself from the case over allegations he improperly discussed it with an outside party.

“Allegations have surfaced revealing this Court may have engaged in actions fundamentally incompatible with the responsibilities attendant to donning the black robe and sitting in judgment,” Trump attorneys Alina Habba and Clifford Robert wrote in a 24-page recusal motion.

On Feb. 16, the day Judge Arthur Engoron handed down his multimillion-dollar judgment against Trump, a high-profile New York real estate lawyer said in an interview with NBC New York that he approached the judge about three weeks earlier to offer unsolicited advice about the case.

“I saw him in the corner [at the courthouse] and I told my client, ‘I need to go.’ And I walked over and we started talking. … I wanted him to know what I think and why … I really want him to get it right,” the lawyer, Adam Leitman Bailey, told NBC New York on Feb. 16.

Bailey later said that “the word ‘Donald Trump'” was never mentioned in the conversation, NBC New York reported, but when asked if it was clear they were discussing Trump’s case, the lawyer replied, “Well, obviously we weren’t talking about the Mets.”

At the time, court spokesperson Al Baker told the outlet that Engoron’s decision “was his alone, was deeply considered and was wholly uninfluenced” by Bailey, denying any ex parte conversation where the case was discussed without all parties present.

In an email to The Hill, Bailey contended that his remarks to NBC New York were “off the record” and said he “only discussed with the Judge the September Summary Judgment decision,” where Engoron found Trump and his co-defendants liable for fraud.

I did not think that speaking to Judge Engoron about my own personal views of his already published decision was wrong in any way,” he said.

“I was tricked, I was duped and I’m devastated that any of this is happening, it’s just wrong,” he continued. “I am devastated and I am hurt that even though Judge Engoron is retiring very soon that he still has to deal with this, because of a statement I gave off the record.”

The conversation between Bailey and Engoron sparked a state judicial conduct investigation last month.

“The New York Code of Judicial Conduct exists to ensure that litigants are afforded a fair and impartial trial,” Habba said in a statement. “Justice Engoron’s communications with Attorney Adam Leitman Bailey regarding the merits of this case, however, directly violate that code and demonstrate that Judge Engoron cannot serve as a fair arbiter.

“It is clear that Judge Engoron should recuse himself immediately,” she said.

Engoron ruled in February that Trump, the Trump Organization and top executives conspired to alter the former president’s net worth for tax and insurance benefits. He ordered them to pay a combined $464 million, plus interest. Trump has appealed the ruling.

Updated at 7:48 pm EST.

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