Judge Scolds Trump Legal Team and Lets James’s Lawsuit Proceed
A New York judge declined on Friday to throw out the state attorney general’s civil fraud case against former President Donald J. Trump, increasing the likelihood that he will face a trial this fall.
In a sharply worded order, the judge, Justice Arthur F. Engoron of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, denied Mr. Trump’s motion to dismiss the case, granting the attorney general, Letitia James, another victory in the matter. In September, Ms. James filed a lawsuit accusing Mr. Trump, three of his adult children and their family business of overvaluing his assets by billions of dollars.
In his written order, Justice Engoron said that some of the arguments repeatedly made by Mr. Trump’s lawyers were “frivolous,” and had been “borderline frivolous even the first time defendants made them.”
The judge also rejected a separate attempt by Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is named as a defendant in Ms. James’s lawsuit, to dismiss the accusations against her.
“Once again,” Ms. James said in a statement, “Donald Trump’s attempts to evade the law have been rejected.” The decision, she added, “makes clear that Donald Trump is not above the law and must answer for his actions in court.”
What to Know About the Trump Investigations
Numerous inquiries. Since leaving office, former President Donald J. Trump has been facing several investigations into his business dealings and political activities. Here is a look at some notable cases:
Classified documents inquiry. The F.B.I. searched Mr. Trump’s Florida home as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into his handling of classified materials. The inquiry is focused on documents that Mr. Trump had brought with him to Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence, when he left the White House.
Jan. 6 investigations. In a series of public hearings, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack laid out a comprehensive narrative of Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. This evidence could allow federal prosecutors, who are conducting a parallel criminal investigation, to indict Mr. Trump.
Georgia election interference case. Fani T. Willis, the Atlanta-area district attorney, has been leading a wide-ranging criminal investigation into the efforts of Mr. Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia. This case could pose the most immediate legal peril for the former president and his associates.
New York State’s civil case. Letitia James, the New York attorney general, has accused Mr. Trump, his family business and his three adult children of lying to lenders and insurers, fraudulently inflating the value of his assets. The allegations, included in a sweeping lawsuit, are the culmination of a yearslong civil investigation.
Manhattan criminal case. Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, has been investigating whether, among other things, Mr. Trump or his family business intentionally submitted false property values to potential lenders. As a result of the inquiry, the Trump Organization was convicted on Dec. 6 of tax fraud and other crimes.
A lawyer for Mr. Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers had argued, among other things, that the former president, a Republican, was being “singled out and subject to selective treatment” by Ms. James’s office, and that she was motivated by personal and political animus.
Those arguments, versions of which the lawyers raised in court papers last year when seeking to stymie the attorney general’s inquiry, echo the longstanding claim by Mr. Trump that Ms. James, a Democrat, is leading a politically motivated “witch hunt” against him.
Justice Engoron took issue with Mr. Trump’s latest assertion of the claim. In a letter this week, he suggested he might punish the former president’s lawyers for “frivolous litigation,” saying they continued to lean on legal arguments he had previously rejected.
In response, Mr. Trump’s lawyers said they were ethically obligated to revisit the arguments.
“The defendants and counsel intend no disrespect to this court, and do not in any way seek to prolong or delay these proceedings,” their letter said. “Under such circumstances, sanctions are not warranted for advocating positions which respectfully disagree with the views of both plaintiff and this court.”
A lawyer with Ms. James’s office, Kevin Wallace, encouraged the judge to impose sanctions, which most likely would have come in the form of fines for Mr. Trump’s lawyers. Mr. Wallace said that some of the arguments lacked a good-faith legal basis and seemed “calculated to delay the proceedings.”
On Friday, Justice Engoron wrote that “this court (and at least two others) has soundly rejected the ‘witch hunt’ argument.” Ultimately, though, he decided not to impose sanctions, “which the court believes are unnecessary, having made its point.”
In her suit, Ms. James says that Mr. Trump, Ivanka and his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric lied to lenders and insurers about the value of the former president’s assets. They did so, the suit says, to secure favorable loan terms and lower insurance premiums.
“The number of grossly inflated asset values is staggering, affecting most if not all of the real estate holdings in any given year,” the suit says.
The judge has scheduled a trial for early October, just months before the 2024 presidential primaries are set to start, although the parties could seek to settle the matter before then.
Justice Engoron has presided over the litigation for years — first overseeing a drawn-out battle about Ms. James’s efforts to collect evidence from Mr. Trump and his company, and now handling the suit itself — and has at times expressed exasperation with Mr. Trump and his lawyers. In April, he held Mr. Trump in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena from Ms James.
In November, after Ms. James sued Mr. Trump and his family, Justice Engoron appointed Barbara S. Jones, a former federal judge, as an independent monitor to oversee the Trump Organization’s use of its annual financial statements — in which, the attorney general says in her suit, the company had overvalued its assets. Ms. Jones will also watch for any corporate restructuring or the “dissipation of any of significant assets,” Justice Engoron said in an earlier order.
Judge Jones said last month that she had begun the monitoring process and that the Trump Organization had been cooperative.
Ms. James’s suit seeks to bar the Trumps from running a business in New York again. Her office, which lacks the authority to file criminal charges in this case, has referred some of the accusations to federal prosecutors in Manhattan for investigation.
In addition to calling the lawsuit part of a witch hunt, Mr. Trump has accused Ms. James, who is Black, of being “racist” against him.
Mr. Trump is also being investigated by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, whose office has jump-started its inquiry into the former president, and is re-examining his involvement in a hush money payment to a porn star during the 2016 presidential campaign.