Appeals court upholds gag order and refuses to give back Trump’s fines

One of the most defining things about the end of 2023 may be that a headline simply saying “Appeals court rules against Donald Trump” would only generate questions about which court, which case, and which motion. Saying that the ruling had to do with a gag order wouldn’t do much to narrow the scope. Even saying that the ruling came from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York wouldn’t be completely definitive since Trump is facing a second defamation suit from writer E. Jeanne Carroll, a trial to determine how much he will have to pay for giving fraudulent valuations to his properties, and 34 felony counts for falsifying business records. That’s all in New York.

In this case, the ruling handed down Thursday was about a gag order. It was in New York. And it has to do with the potentially $250 million fraud trial that took place in the courtroom of Judge Arthur Engoron.

Testimony in that case officially ended on Wednesday, but just because no one is still talking in the courtroom doesn’t mean the danger of Trump stirring hatred toward the court staff has ended. On Thursday, the appeals court upheld the gag order that Engoron first issued on Oct. 3. However, the bulk of the order is devoted to something else: schooling Trump’s attorneys on just how many ways they went wrong when they filed their appeal.

The ruling, written by a three-judge panel, devotes relatively little time to looking at Engoron’s order. When it does, that order is described as being entirely reasonable. The judges allow that a gag order could be excessive and really could interfere with speech. However, that’s not the case with Engoron’s order. “Here,” the judges write, “the gravity of potential harm is small, given that the Gag Order is narrow, limited to prohibiting solely statements regarding the court’s staff.” They also note that a broader gag order was upheld in a previous ruling.

So the gag order remains, and Trump is not allowed to spread more toxic lies about court clerk Allison Greenfield. This is good, because Trump’s previous statements have generated threats, turned Greenfield into a focus of MAGA rage, and encouraged the spread of some genuinely noxious conspiracy theories (purposely not linked in this story).

The rest of the ruling is devoted to explaining how the lawyers included a supplemental gag order where Trump does not have standing, how they filed a “writ of prohibition” that doesn’t fit the situation, and that the type of review they requested “is not permitted in a civil or criminal action where it can be reviewed by other means.”

Basically, the ruling comes down to, “You did this all wrong, but even if you had done it right, we would have ruled against you.”

But it’s not as if this is a real loss anyway. The gag order is so narrow that Trump is still free to attack Engoron; New York Attorney General Letitia James; all of the state attorneys who argued the case in court; and even members of their families, like Engoron’s wife. The gag order only gives Trump an excuse to chicken out of testifying and provides his fundraising team with another sob story to use while wringing funds from the same rubes who would spend $4,700 on Trump “digital trading cards” and a scrap of the suit he wore in his Georgia mugshot.

Oh, yeah, and Trump doesn’t get the $15,000 back that Engoron already extracted for violations of the gag order. Time for another fundraising email.

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