Judge lifts Trump’s contempt order after 2-month legal fight

Jun 29, 2022, 3:14 PM | Updated: 4:02 pm
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks during the Leadership Forum at the National Rifle Assoc...

FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks during the Leadership Forum at the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting, at the George R. Brown Convention Center, May 27, 2022, in Houston. New York's highest court rejected Trump's last-ditch effort to avoid testifying in the state attorney general's civil investigation into his business practices on Tuesday, June 14, 2022, clearing the way for his deposition in July. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke, File)

(AP Photo/Michael Wyke, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump is no longer in contempt of court, a New York judge ruled Wednesday.

Judge Arthur Engoron, who declared the former president in contempt on April 25 for being slow to respond to a civil subpoena issued by New York’s attorney general, said he has now met conditions required to lift the sanction following a protracted legal battle.

Trump last month paid $110,000 in fines he racked up as a result of the contempt finding. The money, paid directly to Attorney General Letitia James’ office, will continue to be held in an escrow account while Trump appeals the original contempt finding, Engoron said Wednesday.

Trump and his two oldest children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., are scheduled to testify under oath in James’ investigation starting July 15 after the state’s highest court rejected his last-ditch attempt to avoid a subpoena.

“Although we are pleased that the court has lifted the contempt finding, we maintain that it was wholly unwarranted and improper in the first place,” Trump lawyer Alina Habba said. “We will push ahead with our appeal to secure justice for our client.”

A message seeking comment was left with James’ office.

The attorney general asked Engoron to find Trump in contempt of court after he failed to produce any documents to satisfy a March 31 deadline to meet the terms of her subpoena. Engoron fined Trump $10,000 per day for not complying but stopped the fine from accruing in early May, when it appeared a resolution to the dispute was near.

Engoron originally agreed May 11 to lift Trump’s contempt order if he paid the fines and met certain other conditions, including the submission of affidavits describing his search efforts and his company’s document retention policies.

Engoron and the attorney general’s office were unsatisfied with the level of detail in Trump’s submissions, leaving the contempt finding in effect while new affidavits were prepared.

The judge also required a company hired by Trump to aid in the search, HaystackID, to finish going through 17 boxes kept in off-site storage, report its findings and turn over any relevant documents. That process was completed last month, James’ office said.

Engoron stopped the fine from accruing May 6, when Trump’s lawyers submitted 66 pages of court documents detailing the efforts by him and his lawyers to locate the subpoenaed records. He previously warned that he could reinstate it, retroactive to May 7, if his conditions weren’t met.

James, a Democrat, has said her three-year investigation uncovered evidence that Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, misstated the value of assets like skyscrapers and golf courses on financial statements for over a decade.

Her subpoena sought documents pertaining to his annual financial statements, development projects, and even communications with Forbes magazine, where he sought to burnish his image as a wealthy businessperson.

Trump, a Republican, has denied the allegations. He has called James’ investigation “racist” and a politically motivated “witch hunt.” James is Black. Trump’s lawyers have accused her of selective prosecution.

Trump’s lawyers contend James is using her civil investigation to gain access to information that could then be used against him in a parallel criminal investigation being conducted by the Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, also a Democrat.

A federal judge last month dismissed a lawsuit Trump brought against James, rejecting his claim that she targeted him out of political animus and allowing her civil investigation into his business practices to continue.

At a court hearing in that matter, a lawyer for James’ office said evidence found in the probe could support legal action against the former president, his company or both.

The lawyer, Andrew Amer, said at a hearing in Trump’s lawsuit against James that “there’s clearly been a substantial amount of evidence amassed that could support the filing of an enforcement proceeding,” although a final determination on filing such an action has not been made.

___

Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak

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Judge lifts Trump’s contempt order after 2-month legal fight