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Trump demands recusal of NY judge who handed down $450+ million civil fraud judgment

Trump claims that the judge had what he called "prohibited communications" with a third party: New York real-estate lawyer Adam Bailey.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Donald Trump on Thursday demanded the recusal of the judge who oversaw his New York civil fraud trial, citing what he claimed were “prohibited communications” with a third party that he said should disqualify him from the case.

Earlier this year, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron ordered Trump to pay more than $450 million for fraudulently inflating the worth of his assets on yearly financial statements. 

Now, Trump is asking that Engoron be recused after a real-estate lawyer told NBC News back in February that he gave Engoron unsolicited advice about the case outside of the courthouse.

“I actually had the ability to speak to him three weeks ago," Adam Leitman Bailey told NBC New York on Feb. 16 — the same day Engoron handed down his ruling. “I saw him in the corner and I told my client, ‘I need to go.’ And I walked over and we started talking … I wanted him to know what I think and why … I really want him to get it right.”

Bailey’s claims sparked a longshot recusal motion on Thursday from Trump attorneys Alina Habba and Cliff Robert, who argued that the incident imperiled their client’s right to a fair and impartial trial.

“Allegations have surfaced revealing this court may have engaged in actions fundamentally incompatible with the responsibilities attendant to donning the black robe and sitting in judgment,” Trump claimed in the 24-page motion.

Trump asserted that Bailey’s purported conversation with Engoron went undisclosed to counsel and violated the New York Code of Judicial Conduct.

“Mr. Bailey has publicly stated that these communications with this court occurred mere weeks prior to issuance of the decision and final judgment in this case,” Trump claimed. “The code flatly prohibits such communications.”

Bailey, who once had his law license suspended for telling an opposing litigant he should commit suicide, claimed that Engoron asked him “a lot of questions” during their conversation.

“I gave him everything I knew,” Bailey said. “He had a lot of questions, you know about certain cases. We went over it."

No witnesses have corroborated the substance of Bailey’s claims, but the incident has reportedly prompted an investigation by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

In May, a spokesman for New York State’s Office of Court Administration denied that such a conversation between Bailey and Engoron ever took place.

“No ex parte conversation concerning this matter occurred between Justice Engoron and Mr. Bailey or any other person," court spokesperson Al Baker said at the time. "The decision Justice Engoron issued February 16 was his alone, was deeply considered, and was wholly uninfluenced by this individual."

Baker declined to comment further when reached by Courthouse News on Thursday.

Bailey has since walked back some of his comments about his supposed chat with Engoron — telling NBC New York in a follow-up interview that Donald Trump was never mentioned and asserting that neither he nor Engoron broke any rules.

Trump attorney Habba was unswayed.

“The New York Code of Judicial Conduct exists to ensure that litigants are afforded a fair and impartial trial,” Habba said in a statement Thursday. “Justice Engoron’s communications with Attorney Adam Leitman Bailey regarding the merits of this case, however, directly violate that code and demonstrate that Judge Engoron cannot serve as a fair arbiter. It is clear that Judge Engoron should recuse himself immediately.”

In a batch of filings accompanying their motion, Habba and Robert also filed a subpoena for Bailey and his law firm. They're asking for communications or documents relating to conversations Bailey had with Engoron or any member of the court’s staff.

Trump has appealed Engoron’s judgment against him, claiming that the court “abused its discretion, and/or acted in excess of its jurisdiction,” in imposing the hefty penalties.

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Categories / National, Politics

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