"Unprecedented": Judge rips Trump lawyers over "frivolous" lawsuit in brutal footnote

Trump tried to escape the New York attorney general's investigation — by filing a lawsuit in Florida

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published December 22, 2022 1:05PM (EST)

Donald Trump (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

A federal judge in Florida on Wednesday denied former President Donald Trump's request to block the New York attorney general's office from placing the Trump business empire under court supervision.

U.S. District Court Donald Middlebrooks ruled that the attorney general's office "raises four reasons – all of which are likely correct – why Plaintiff has no substantial likelihood of success on the merits."

The judge warned against continuing the case against New York Attorney General Letitia James and turned down Trump's attempt to get emergency relief to stop James from seeking materials from his private trust.

"This litigation has all the telltale signs of being both vexatious and frivolous," Middlebrooks wrote in a footnote to his eight-page order.

After a three-year investigation, James filed a lawsuit against the Trump Organization in September, alleging years of financial fraud in real estate, tax and insurance transactions.

"Time and time again, the courts have ruled that Donald Trump cannot evade the law for personal gain," James said after the judge approved her request for an independent monitor. "Today's decision will ensure that Donald Trump and his companies cannot continue the extensive fraud that we uncovered and will require the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee compliance at the Trump Organization. No number of lawsuits, delay tactics, or threats will stop our pursuit of justice."

Businesses engaged in repeated illegal behavior can face a variety of sanctions under New York law, which would make it nearly impossible for Trump's firms to do business in the state, Politico reported

A Manhattan judge agreed to James' request for a court-appointed monitor to oversee the Trump businesses, but Trump is appealing that ruling. 

Middlebrooks said an injunction would interfere with the monitor doing her work and also get in the way of James' evidence-gathering efforts in the fraud case, which heads to trial in October 2023. 

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The judge highlighted the need for oversight, noting that Trump's company was just convicted in a related criminal tax case.

"The Trump Organization has already been found guilty by a New-York jury of several counts of tax fraud," the judge wrote. "To now impede a civil enforcement action by the New York Attorney General would be unprecedented and contrary to the interests of the people of New York."

Trump, who has denied any wrongdoing, sued James in Florida to try to block her access to the trust records. He argued that James is trying to gain access to his revocable trust and making details of his estate planning public.

But Middlebrooks said that concern was "quintessentially speculative" since the state indicated in email exchanges with Trump's attorneys that it would receive documents with redactions of estate-planning portions.

He added that the Florida suit lacked merit for a variety of reasons, including that James isn't located in Florida. 

James is gathering evidence to prove her claim that Trump, his three oldest children and his company were involved in a decade-long fraud scheme manipulating the value of his assets to deceive banks and insurers. 

The judge in her case appointed a monitor to oversee parts of Trump's business during the litigation to prevent "further fraud or illegality."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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