As a New Yorker, I wish Democratic state Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan Judge Arthur Engoron would treat shoplifters, graffiti vandals, and armed robbers with just a puff of the volcanic rage with which they “get Trump.”

Former President Donald Trump’s civil fraud indictment, trial, and $354.9 million penalty are an abortion of justice. That massive sum likely violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment requirement that there shall be no “excessive fines imposed.”

Appellate judges should vacate this travesty, with prejudice.


First, rather than approach this case fairly, James campaigned for office by promising to persecute Trump. 

“I will never be afraid to challenge this illegitimate president,” James said in 2018, heaping election denial atop bias. “I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings.”

James blends Inspector Javert’s monomaniacal bullying of recovering bread thief Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables” with, in spirit, a bill of attainder, which unconstitutionally hounds one specific individual.

James hot-wired New York Executive Law § 63 (12) to steamroll Trump. The Associated Press scrutinized this statute across the last 68 years and concluded that “Trump’s case stands apart in a significant way: It’s the only big business found that was threatened with a shutdown without a showing of obvious victims and major losses.” 

Bernard Condon’s Jan. 29 article added: “AP’s review of nearly 150 reported cases since New York’s ‘repeated fraud’ statute was passed in 1956 showed that nearly every previous time a company was taken away, victims and losses were key factors. Customers had lost money or bought defective products or never received services ordered, leaving them cheated and angry.”

Rather than defend regular consumers against crooks and con artists, James pretends that she is protecting Trump’s lenders and insurers. Far from being vulnerable shoppers, these highly sophisticated financial houses employ battalions of MBAs, accountants, and lawyers who breeze through balance sheets more easily than everyday Americans flip through the Sunday papers’ coupon flyers.

Rather than feel “cheated and angry,” corporate executives testified that Trump repaid his loans, with interest, sometimes ahead of schedule. They liked him so much that they wanted to lend him more money.

Retired Deutsche Bank risk manager Nicholas Haigh testified on Oct. 11 that his company independently assessed and discounted Trump’s financial declarations. “I think the phrase we used might have been ‘sanity checks’ on the numbers,” Haigh said.

When Trump borrowed $125 million for his Doral golf course in 2011, Deutsche Bank modified Trump’s net worth from his stated $4.3 billion down to $2.4 billion—and then lent accordingly. “It’s a conservative measure to make these adjustments,” Managing Director David Williams testified Nov. 28, saying that such a “stress test” is “standard” practice.

James’ case is like prosecuting an alleged serial rapist, whose “victims” swear under oath that he was a perfect gentleman who dined with them and then dropped them off at home, untouched.

Last Sept. 21, James announced that she wanted Trump to pay $250 million in “relief.” But on Jan. 5, James suddenly changed her mind and demanded $370 million—up 48%. Engoron’s $355 million judgment was anything but Solomonic. He handed James 95.9% of “the baby” over which she and Trump wrestled.

Now, if Trump does not surrender this fortune, and pronto, Kommissar James threatens to snatch his skyscrapers until she gets her hundred pounds of flesh. “If he does not have funds to pay off the judgment, then we will seek judgment enforcement mechanisms in court, and we will ask the judge to seize his assets,” James told ABC News. “I look at 40 Wall Street each and every day.”

Since Trump’s business practices injured no person or entity, where would his fine go? Trump’s banks suffered no related losses. So, how could they claim Trump’s money? And if they don’t, does James keep this bonanza as her personal slush fund?

James’ partner in injustice is Judge Arthur Engoron. This Democrat Party donor should be booted from the bench for behaving more like the chairman of Hate Trump PAC than an honest, evenhanded jurist.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives at New York State Supreme Court at the start of the civil fraud trial against him on Oct. 2 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

First, on Sept. 26, Engoron found Trump “to be liable as a matter of law for persistent violations of Executive Law § 63 (12).” Engoron so ruled, seven days before, in his own words, “a nonjury trial that began on Oct. 2, 2023.”

In other words, verdict first, testimony later. Having rendered his findings before hearing witnesses, Engoron dedicated the trial to assessing Trump’s penalty, not whether to impose one.

This decision confirms Engoron’s self-description: “I’m an impartial referee, but it’s hard to factor out my emotions.”

New York State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron sits inside the courtroom during former President Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial in New York City on Oct. 17. He claimed to be “impartial,” evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. (Photo: Jeenah Moon/AFP/Getty Images)

Second, once those witnesses spoke, Engoron ignored their testimony. Bank executives who said they suffered no fraud left Engoron cold.

Third, this case revolves around Trump allegedly overvaluing his properties to secure bigger, better loans. 

Is this connection, consider:

A 2.32-acre empty lot is for sale at 1063/1071 North Ocean Boulevard on Palm Beach Island. No house. No pool. It’s just a giant lawn. Price: $200 million. 

1063/1071 North Ocean Boulevard, Palm Beach, Florida. Asking price: $200 million. (Photo: Christie’s)

Meanwhile, a 14-minute drive and 5.6 miles down the same street, at 1100 South Ocean Boulevard, sits Trump’s 20-acre Mar-a-Lago estate. It’s a palatial, 58-bedroom, 33-bathroom resort with gardens, fountains, a swimming pool, restaurants, ballrooms, and more. General Foods owner Marjorie Merriweather Post spent $7 million in 1927—or $123 million today—to build this hideaway from scratch.

Like the first property, Mar-a-Lago faces the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike that lot, Mar-a-Lago rests on the Intracoastal Waterway. Save for Ocean Boulevard that runs through it, Trump’s property goes, to borrow a phrase, from the river to the sea. Trump and his guests can savor the beach, traverse Mar-a-Lago, and then sail yachts along the smooth, sheltered Intercoastal.

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. Value, according to Judge Engoron: $18 million. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Despite Post’s initial investment and ensuing luxuries, Engoron valued Mar-a-Lago at $18 million—just 9% of the price for that nearby patch of lawn.

This nonsense confirms that Engoron is terminally ignorant about real estate values, pathologically biased against Trump, or both.

An appellate court should vaporize Engoron’s absurd, sadistic ruling. Those judges should grant Trump true justice: acquittal on all of James’ corrupt charges. That court then should sanction Engoron for blatant, partisan activism masquerading as “jurisprudence.”

Legal scholars have hurled brickbats at this catastrophe.

“This is fraud ‘in the air,’” Arthur Fergenson, senior counsel of Ansa Assuncao LLP, wrote Feb. 20 for “No harm by no one against no one for no loss by anyone.”

In a article subtitled “A Stalinist nightmare in New York State,” Northwestern University law professor Steven Calabresi describes “Trump’s Kafkaesque Civil Trial” as “an unjust political act rivaled only in American politics by the killing of former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton by Vice President Aaron Burr.”

James and Engoron are free to disagree with Trump. If they cannot stand him, they can knock on doors or work phone banks for President Joe Biden. What they may not do is devolve New York’s judicial system into the Committee to Reelect Biden or Citizens for Disemboweling Trump.

Honest appellate judges should relegate this dumpster fire to the nearest landfill. And they should slap severe, career-crippling sanctions on partisan Democratic tyrants Letitia James and Arthur Engoron.

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.

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