The judge overseeing former President Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial in New York should be wary of the former president’s efforts to elicit a strong reaction from him, former U.S. House Judiciary Committee counsel Michael Conway warned in a column for MSNBC. Conway cited the trial of the “Chicago Seven” to alert Engoron to a potential legal strategy from team MAGA: In the Chicago case, the defendants made a point to chafe Judge Julius Hoffman and jury convictions were ultimately overturned on appeal. As Conway noted, Trump’s legal team last week filed a motion for a mistrial that alleged misconduct on Engoron’s behalf. Though other legal experts have panned the motion as a “terrible strategy,” Conway argued that “if judges do take this bait and make errors, an appellate court could potentially conclude that the trial was unfair and reverse the judgment.”

“In New York, Engoron has used strident language in rejecting Trump’s legal positions, terming them ‘pure sophistry, ‘risible,’ ‘bogus arguments and ‘egregious’ in his summary judgment opinion,” Conway wrote. “He sanctioned five Trump attorneys $7,500 each for the ‘borderline frivolous’ arguments in their briefs. Harsh language isn’t a problem if it’s justified. But the more Engoron pushes the envelope, the more he risks an appellate court disagreeing with his assessment. And Trump’s lawyers can and will argue the judge’s rhetoric is evidence of judicial bias.” Conway also called attention to the “drama” surrounding Trump’s targeting of his law clerk, which partially led to the judge’s slapping the ex-president with a partial gag order.  “Engoron’s interactions with his law clerk, and the drama that has surrounded them, are another area of concern,” Conway said. “Trump has repeatedly criticized the clerk, making false statements about her that the court found had precipitated threats of violence. When Trump twice violated a gag order prohibiting such remarks, he was fined $15,000.”

“Engoron’s issuance of gag orders barring Trump and his lawyers from commenting about his law clerk both publicly and in court sessions is also facing scrutiny by a higher court. On Thursday, a New York appellate judge temporarily halted Engoron’s gag orders, citing First Amendment protections,” Conway continued. “An appellate court panel is scheduled to evaluate the issue on Nov. 27.  So here again we have Engoron committing a potentially unnecessary unforced error. Instead of trying to mitigate risk, he is clearly allowing emotion to color his responses. And there are other examples of Engoron seemingly overreacting in response to relentless complaining from Trump’s lawyers. Obviously, Trump’s civil trial is very different from the Chicago Seven trial, a criminal proceeding with a jury, in multiple important ways. And the appeals court cited multiple reasons to reverse the Chicago convictions. But Engoron would be wise to consider the lessons of that case nonetheless. He needs to take all necessary steps to ensure that a New York appellate court cannot overturn his decision. And that means not reacting to Trump’s hate-filled speech, or to his lawyers’ baiting and provocation. It’s simply not worth it.” 


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