NEW YORK -- A New York judge on Friday denied a motion from former President Donald Trump's legal team to purge a civil contempt of court ruling and the $10,000 per day fine that accompanies it.
Judge Arthur Engoron held Trump in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena for evidence in the state attorney general's civil investigation into his business dealings.
Trump, in a sworn affidavit, said he possessed no documents subpoenaed by the New York Attorney General's Office, but Judge Engoron remained unsatisfied and denied the motion.
"To the best of my knowledge, (i) I do not have any of the documents requested in the subpoena dated December 1, 2021 in my personal possession; and (ii) if there are any documents responsive to the subpoena I believe they would be in the possession or custody of the Trump Organization," Trump's affidavit said. "At all relevant times, I have authorized, and continue to authorize, the release of a responsive document to the Office of the Attorney General."
The judge, though, was unmoved and refused to lift sanctions. Additionally, Engoron criticized the lack of detail in Trump affidavit, which amounted to two paragraphs, saying that he should have explained the methods he uses to stores his records and efforts he made to locate the subpoenaed files.
In other affidavits, Trump lawyers Alina Habba and Michael Madaio detailed steps they took to locate documents in the Dec. 1 subpoena, including meeting with Trump last month at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and reviewing prior searches of his company's files.
Andrew Amer, a lawyer for the Attorney General's Office, said in a court filing that while the affidavits "provide some additional information" about Trump's efforts to comply with the subpoena, more extensive searches were needed - including of Trump Tower, his residences and electronic devices - before the judge should consider reversing the contempt finding.
Habba filed a notice of appeal Wednesday with the appellate division of the state's trial court seeking to overturn Engoron's contempt ruling. Trump is also challenging Engoron's Feb. 17 ruling requiring that he answer questions under oath. Oral arguments in that appeal are scheduled for May 11.
"Today's events have made it overwhelmingly clear that this case no longer has anything to do with the proper application of legal principles governing discovery disclosure," Habba said after the ruling. "The Court completely disregarded the detailed affidavits that demonstrate the meticulous efforts undertaken to effectuate this search. This Court has improperly held my client in contempt for a violation that he did not commit solely because the OAG declared it 'insufficient' without any basis. The tactics employed by this Court, including the dramatic pounding of the gavel, the statements directed to our client from the bench, and direct comments to the press have reduced this hearing to the likes of a public spectacle. We will zealously prosecute our appeal of the Court's improper application of both law and fact."
Attorney General Letitia James has said that her investigation has uncovered evidence that Trump may have misstated the value of assets like skyscrapers and golf courses on his financial statements for more than a decade. Her Dec. 1 subpoena sought numerous documents, including paperwork and communications pertaining to his financial statements and various development projects.
James asked Engoron to hold Trump in contempt after he failed to produce any documents by a March 31 court deadline. In his ruling, Engoron said that Trump and his lawyers not only failed to meet the deadline, but also failed to document the steps they had taken to search for the documents, as required under case law.
Trump is suing James in federal court in an effort to stop her investigation. Oral arguments in that matter are scheduled for May 13.
Trump recently labeled her an "operative for the Democrat Party" and has said in written statements that her investigation and a parallel criminal probe overseen by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg are "a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt of all time."
Bragg said this month that the 3-year-old criminal investigation he inherited in January from his predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., is continuing "without fear or favor" despite a recent shakeup in the probe's leadership. Trump's lawyers contend that James is using her civil investigation to gain access to information that could then be used against him in the criminal probe.
So far, the district attorney's investigation has resulted only in tax fraud charges against the Trump Organization and its longtime finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, relating to lucrative fringe benefits such as rent, car payments and school tuition. The company and Weisselberg have pleaded not guilty.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)