Trump’s planned courtroom antics foiled by judge

Yesterday we saw another attempt by serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) to turn the legal system into a circus. All witness testimony in the fraud trial involving his business enterprises that was brought by the attorney general of the state of New York Letitia James, and which is being conducted in a Manhattan courthouse presided over by judge Arthur Engoron, is over and all that remains is the summing up by the two sides. Note that Engoron had already ruled that the documentary evidence had established fraud and this trial was to determine the size of the penalty. James had initially asked for $250 million and then raised it to $370 million.

SSAT said that he wanted to give his side’s closing argument, in addition to his attorneys. I do not think that this was because he thought his attorneys were incompetent, although they apparently forgot to check the box at the beginning that asked for a jury trial and thus this was a bench trial to be judged exclusively by the judge. That did not prevent SSAT from repeatedly whining how he was being deprived of his constitutional right to be tried by a jury even though that right has to be requested and he did not do so. I think that he may have not wanted to have a jury at all, anticipating that he would lose and thinking that it would be easier to argue that the judge was biased against him rather than a jury.

In an effort to not give any fuel to SSAT’s claims of bias, Engoron seems to have bent over backwards during the trial to put up with SSAT’s grandstanding and attacks on everyone, and when SSAT asked to be able to give a closing statement, he agreed, even though it is highly unusual for a defendant to do so, especially one who is not legally trained because there are certain rules that must be followed. When Engoron spelled out those rules and told SSAT that he could only speak if he agreed to follow those rules, SSAT’s lawyers balked.

In an email exchange, the judge requested Trump agree to certain conditions – requiring he focused only on the facts of the case, and refrained from introducing new evidence, or commenting on “irrelevant matters” – to formally address the court.

Engoron also stressed that Trump would not be allowed to deliver “a campaign speech”, or “impugn myself, my staff, plaintiff, plaintiff’s staff, or the New York state court system”.

The former president’s legal team would not agree to these terms.

“I won’t debate this yet again,” Engoron wrote on Wednesday, after Trump’s lawyers pushed back. “Take it or leave it. Now or never. You have until noon, seven minutes from now. I WILL NOT GRANT ANY FURTHER EXTENSIONS.”

When Trump’s lawyers failed to respond in time, Engoron followed up with another email.

“Not having heard from you by the third extended deadline,” he wrote, “I assume that Mr Trump will not agree to the reasonable, lawful limits I have imposed as a precondition to giving a closing statement above and beyond those given by his attorneys, and that, therefore, he will not be speaking in court tomorrow.”

SSAT, in his continued efforts to delay everything for as long as possible, had also asked for a delay because his mother-in-law had died but Engoron was not having it.

It is risky for an defendant not trained in the law to give a closing statement.

It’s extremely uncommon for people who have lawyers to give their own closing arguments. But Trump’s lawyers had signaled privately to the judge last week that the ex-president planned to deliver a summation personally, in addition to arguments from his legal team. James’ office objected, saying that the proposal would effectively amount to testimony without cross-examination.

Taking on a role usually performed by an attorney is dicey for any defendant, and summations are a last chance to try to show how the evidence from the trial has or hasn’t met legal requirements for proving the case.

A closing argument isn’t constrained to the question-and-answer format of testimony. But “it’s absolutely not a free-for-all,” said Christine Bartholomew, a University at Buffalo School of Law professor who specializes in civil procedure.

“Unless you’re legally trained … the chance of a misstep is really, really high,” she said, adding that it’s “extra-risky” when a judge has already taken issue with a defendant’s conduct during the case.

I am not sure that SSAT really wanted to do this. It may have been just bravado, like first saying that he was going to give testimony in the trial and then backing out at the last minute. Here too he may have withdrawn, saying he had to go to Iowa to campaign or something like that. Or he may have thought that he could give a campaign rally-type speech in court, full of his usual lies, that would thrill his supporters. In any event, none of that is going to happen. After the lawyers on both sides give the irclosing arguments, the judge said he would deliver his verdict by the end of this month.

Of course SSAT and his lawyers are going to whine again that he is being muzzled and his free speech rights denied when it is nothing of the sort and in fact he has been treated with considerable deference.


  1. johnson catman says

    It sounds like Engoron knew what to expect from The Orange Idiot and preemptively shot it down. Good job!

  2. sonofrojblake says

    It’s entertaining watching his playbook fail.

    It’s all taking so long, though -- the election is looming, and time is running short to kneecap him from running, because at this point there is absolutely no chance anyone can beat him for the nomination and right now I wouldn’t bet against him beating Biden fair and square.

  3. StonedRanger says

    Trump wasnt foiled by the judge, he was held back by his own cowardice. Its like a four year old who doesnt get his way and takes his ball home except he cant take anything anywhere. He has to sit there and take it like the man he wishes he was.

  4. KG says

    right now I wouldn’t bet against him beating Biden fair and square.

    I’d say the chances of that are zero. What with vote suppression, intimidation of election officials and the fact that he’s ineligible to serve as President under amendment 14 (I don’t think there’s any honest doubt about that, although his packed Supreme Court is likely to say otherwise).

  5. boba1 says

    One article said Trump had been practicing his closing for two days. I guess he got trumped by the judge.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    Well, you’re going to have to change the title of this post, because everything Trump wanted to say, he said, and the judge did fuck all to stop him. “Foiled” my arse. “Enabled” more like. Why was he allowed to leave the courtroom? Has there ever been a more open and shut example of contempt?
    @KG, 4: yeah, “fair and square” is impossible for either side in the US’s fundamentally broken system. What I meant was -- he wouldn’t need to be ringing round trying to get people to “find” 11,000 votes or any of that shit -- right now the way I see it, there’s a full half chance he could win the electoral college AND the popular vote without any of the shenanigans of last time. Amendment 14 is meaningless unless and until more states enforce it, and you’re right -- at the end of the day it’s the court that will decide, ludicrously, like it did in 2000, one of the clearest examples of a literally stolen election in my lifetime.

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