March 27, 2023

A New York appeals court ruled Tuesday that former President Donald Trump was “correctly” held in contempt last year for failing to turn over documents demanded in a subpoena by the state’s attorney general.

Trump paid $110,000 in fines related to the contempt order, but also appealed the ruling. The money has since been held in escrow.

The April 25, 2022, contempt finding came after he contested a subpoena seeking records related to his personal finances and the financing of several properties. Trump claimed he had no material that was responsive to the subpoena, leading to demands by the judge and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James that his attorneys provide detailed explanations of how they conducted their search.  

New York Judge Arthur Engoron concluded that Trump’s team failed to adequately explain how they searched for documents, and fined Trump $10,000 per day — a sanction that eventually totaled $110,000 by the time his attorneys first filed explanations of their attempts to search for the subpoenaed documents.

The appeals court wrote in its decision on Tuesday that Engoron “correctly determined” that Trump “violated the lawful, clear mandate of the court, of which he had knowledge.”

After the contempt finding, the attorney general demanded affidavits from two dozen Trump Organization employees and attorneys in an effort to learn how the company apparently kept nearly no records on the personal finances of its namesake.

Nearly all the employees who filed affidavits said the company had few concrete policies concerning  the destruction and retention of documents related to Trump’s personal finances, leaving such decisions to individual employees.

Those statements mirrored what Trump said in his own affidavit, that “it has been my customary practice to delegate document handling and retention responsibilities to my executive assistants.”

Trump attorney Alina Habba defended her efforts in a June 8 letter to Engoron, writing that “a vast number” of documents showing Trump’s “handwritten notes” had been turned over by the Trump Organization. Habba’s letter was accompanied by eight exhibits that include several photos of the golf legend Gary Player, on which Trump had written “Great,” as well as several legal and design documents in which he wrote “OK.” There was also a note from his daughter on a planning document related to a Trump property in Doral, Florida. 

Habba did not reply to a request for comment Tuesday.

James said in a statement to the media that “for years,” Trump “tried to stall and thwart our lawful investigation into his financial dealings.”

“Today’s decision sends a clear message that there are consequences for abusing the legal system,” James said.

The contempt finding came amid the final months of an investigation dating back to 2018. In September 2022, James’ office filed a $250 million lawsuit against Trump, three of his children, and the company. A civil trial in the suit, which also seeks to end the company’s operations in New York, is scheduled to begin in October.

The Trumps have denied any wrongdoing and said the investigation is politically motivated.

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