Faced with an onslaught of expensive lawsuits ranging from fraud to racketeering, former President Donald Trump is desperately trying to delay several trials well into the 2024 presidential election season—and he was just called out for the scheme.
Trump’s lawyers have until Wednesday to explain how they tried to play two New York judges off each other by double-booking trials to potentially delay them both.
Trump already pushed back a potential late 2023 trial over duping investors to Jan. 2024, citing a conflict with the New York Attorney General’s trial over his fake financial statements to banks. But when Trump’s team recently sought to delay that AG trial, they got caught.
An attorney has alerted U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield in federal court and Justice Arthur F. Engoron in state court that they may be getting played.
“Donald Trump has a history of leveraging his presidential-campaign activities to delay and avoid judicial proceedings,” attorney Roberta Kaplan wrote in a letter sent to both judges. “We anticipated that, should the case schedule run into 2024, Mr. Trump will begin to argue that his campaign obligations must take precedence over his participation in this case, including at trial.”
One retired state judge, who asked not to be quoted because he still oversees New York legal disputes, likened the Trump tactic to a child who separately asks parents for permission to eat more and more candy to trick them both into a better deal.
Randolph M. McLaughlin, a law professor at Pace University, called it an apt analogy—particularly because Trump eventually got caught.
“When children do this—go from one parent to another—if the parents aren’t aware of what the kid is doing, the kid can get away with things. But once the parent is aware the child is playing them against each other, the game is over,” he said.
McLaughlin stressed how rare it is for a lawyer to do what Kaplan did: contact a judge in a separate case to flag questionable behavior.
“I’ve never seen a situation like this where a lawyer who’s not before the court puts the court on notice on what the defendant is doing in the federal case. I think Engoron is going to slam with this,” McLaughlin said. “It’s highly irregular. Then again, we’ve never seen so many actions filed against one person all over the place.”
Justice Engoron has not yet responded to Kaplan’s letter. But he has previously dragged Trump’s lawyers into his courtroom to explain their delay tactics in the past—at one point sanctioning the former president $10,000 a day for refusing to turn over documents and slowing down AG Letitia James’ investigation. Trump was eventually ordered to pay a $110,000 fine.
By contrast, Judge Schofield immediately ordered Trump’s lawyers to explain themselves in writing by March 15.
Trump’s defense attorneys, Clifford S. Robert and Alina Habba, did not respond to questions from The Daily Beast. Instead, a spokeswoman for the team offered a statement saying, “We maintain the utmost confidence that our client will be vindicated at the upcoming trial.”
Kaplan, who wrote the letter on behalf of the investors who argue they were duped by Trump, did not respond to a request for comment. Kaplan has repeatedly called out Trump for his delay tactics in another case she’s working on for journalist E. Jean Carroll, who says Trump raped her in the 1990s—and defamed her when she went public decades later. In that third case, a federal judge has resisted Trump’s attempts to push the trial into later this year.
The two cases in question here are vastly different, but both have one common factor: lies.
In federal court, angry investors say Trump and the adult children he made executives used NBC’s The Apprentice show to knowingly hawk a crappy videophone—one that turned out to be a sour investment. In state court, the New York AG accuses the Trumps and their family company of routinely lying to banks by faking financial statements and inflating property values.
In her letter concerning those two cases, Kaplan noted that Trump’s lawyer, Clifford Robert, agreed to a “firm” trial date in federal court—only to try and push the state court trial, too.
“Based on Mr. Robert’s prior estimate that trial in that case will take longer than eight weeks, the delay that the [Trumps] are now seeking in the NYAG Case would almost inevitably risk interfering with the January 29, 2024 trial date the court has set for this case,” she wrote.
The last-minute request to postpone trials is “consistent with the pattern of delay” judges keep seeing from the Trumps, she said.
Alan David Marrus, a retired state judge in Brooklyn, noted that Kaplan’s “extraordinary action in contacting this judge directly” was “aggressive and unusual.” He explained that Kaplan could have been discreet and done it the way lawyers usually do—by simply notifying the AG and letting the government lawyers do it instead.
“As a former judge, I would find it very disconcerting to receive a letter from a lawyer in another case,” he said, adding that the tactics exhibited by the Trump team show why “transparency is really something we would expect from the lawyers.”
Marrus, who retired in 2016, now runs a civil wedding officiant service called Judges for Love.
The nation’s inundated court system—with too few practitioners and too many cases—often results in schedule scrimaging, with lawyers and judges coordinating calendar dates months ahead of time. Some attorneys use that to their advantage, double booking important hearings or trials and hoping that one of them just falls through. When that happens, lawyers tend to lean on local, elected state judges to give way to the whims of Senate-confirmed federal judges, who have lifetime tenure and greater stature.
“I’ve certainly had the experience of being told by lawyers, ‘I can’t do it because somebody else has scheduled something.’ Very often, people try to trump the state courts with the federal courts,” said Carolyn E. Demarest, a retired New York justice who oversaw the entire commercial division in Brooklyn for more than a decade.
But going back and forth? That’s basically unheard of.
“I would think any judge—including me—would be furious if I found out somebody was trying to play me,” Demarest said. “Usually the judge takes very seriously a firm trial date and does not schedule anything in conflict for themselves. That’s frustrating everybody.”
Outside of New York, Trump’s army of attorneys has been busy trying to slow down the FBI’s investigation of his mishandling of classified records at his gilded Mar-a-Lago estate in South Florida, the Department of Justice review of his attempt to overturn the 2020 election to stay in office, and the Fulton County District Attorney’s probe into his meddling in Georgia’s election. These varied attempts have had limited success, but all of these law enforcement efforts continue to plow forward and are expected to result in multiple indictments later this year.
McLaughlin, the law school professor, said Trump’s games are over.
“Delays work for the defendant. But you can only run the clock out so long. Eventually, judges get wise to this. And I think they’re getting wise,” he said. “They’re playing games with the legal system. It can be an effective strategy, when you have one or two cases. But he’s being pilloried all over the country in New York, Georgia, and D.C. It’s like he’s trying to stop the waterfall.”