Trump takes Tish James, $454M judgment to higher court

Appeal automatic in New York, but outcomes hard to predict

Donald Trump Asks Appellate Division to Dump $454M Judgment
From left: Attorney General Letitia James, Judge Arthur Engoron and Donald Trump (Getty; Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal)

The only question was when, not if, Donald Trump would appeal the $454 million judgment levied against his firm by a New York judge.

The answer: Monday, Reuters reported.

The right to appeal New York Supreme Court rulings once is automatic, and given the massive size of the penalty handed down by Judge Arthur Engoron, the Trump Organization wasted no time. Interest is accruing at the rate of more than $100,000 per day, tweeted state Attorney General Letitia James, whose office brought the case.

Engoron’s rulings in real estate cases have been overturned by the Appellate Division before, notably when he threw out the Department of City Planning’s approval of four rental tower projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood. The higher court ruled 4-0 that the developments did not require approval by the City Council, which would have drastically changed or even killed the projects.

The attorney general alleged that the Trump Organization claimed high valuations for its properties in order to borrow more money against them, but low valuations when it suited the company’s purposes.

Trump testified during his three-month trial last fall that the valuations were sometimes inaccurate but that his lenders were notified to check them for themselves, Reuters reported.

The former president has argued from the beginning that the case against him was a “witch hunt” by James, a Democrat who has advanced her political career by targeting the ex-president. His supporters have said there is no victim in the case — Trump did not default on the loans in question, and his lenders never complained — and that it was an example of selective enforcement by James.

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Nonetheless, the judgment, along with awards in other civil cases against Trump, threaten his real estate empire: He might have to liquidate properties in order to pay them. James has threatened to try to seize some to satisfy the judgment.

Engoron also banned Trump from running a corporation in New York or seeking loans with New York banks for three years, and gave a court-appointed watchdog more power to oversee the Trump Organization’s finances.

But a resolution to the case is likely at least a year away, given the legal options available to the developer, whose net worth has been estimated at $2.6 billion. By then, he may be president again, as he is cruising to the Republican nomination.

A panel of four or five Appellate Division judges will rule on Trump’s appeal, based only on evidence introduced at the trial. If they deliver a split verdict, either side would have an automatic right to a hearing by the Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state.

The losing side in a unanimous verdict, however, can only ask the Court of Appeals to hear the case. Such requests are rarely granted, although a high-profile case like Trump’s might have a better shot than most.

Erik Engquist

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