N.Y. judge widens Trump case gag order; limits in criminal case lifted

Trump Organization trial in New York State Supreme Court in New York

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A judge on Friday issued an expanded gag order in the New York state civil fraud case against Donald Trump, while a federal appeals court temporarily lifted similar restrictions in a criminal case against the former U.S. president in Washington.

The order issued by Justice Arthur Engoron of the New York state court in Manhattan bars public statements by lawyers in the case about the judge's communications with his staff. The case brought by New York state's attorney general accuses Trump of inflating his assets and net worth to obtain favorable bank loans and lower insurance premiums.

Engoron first imposed a gag order on Oct. 3 after Trump shared on social media a photo of the judge's principal law clerk posing with U.S. Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and falsely called her Schumer's "girlfriend."

The judge has fined Trump $15,000 for twice violating that gag order. The expanded gag order covers lawyers as well after a member of Trump's legal team, Christopher Kise, objected to the clerk passing notes to the judge during the trial. Defense lawyers in the case have made repeated objections about the working relationship between the judge and his clerk, including suggestions that she was biased. Trump also has accused her of bias.

Separately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District if Columbia Circuit granted Trump's request to pause U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan's gag order that limited his statements in a case brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith accusing him of unlawfully trying to undo his 2020 election loss.

A three-judge panel, all appointed by Democratic presidents, scheduled oral arguments on Trump's appeal of the gag order for Nov. 20. Chutkan's order barred statements that target prosecutors and potential witnesses in the case.

Trump in the past has called Smith a "deranged lunatic" and a "thug," among other insults. Trump's lawyers have argued the order violates his free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

In the New York case, Engoron said on Friday he has an "unfettered right" to consult with his staff members throughout the trial, and that the gag order was intended to protect their safety.

"The First Amendment right of defendants and their attorneys to comment on my staff is far and away outweighed by the need to protect them from threats and physical harm," Engoron wrote.

Failure to honor the gag order, the judge said, "shall result in serious sanctions."

The order was issued after Trump's sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump testified this week. Their father is expected to testify on Monday.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham and Caitlin Webber)