A NY Judge Fined Trump For $355 Million — What Happens Now?

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Gage Klipper Commentary & Analysis Writer
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After a fiery three month trial, former president Donald Trump was ordered to pay over $355 million on Friday in a New York civil fraud case. Yet questions remain over what comes next.

The suit, brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, centered on Trump’s inflation of assets to secure bank loans. Throughout the trial, Judge Arthur Engoron of the Supreme Court 1st Judicial District in New York came under fire for his own questionable assessments of Trump’s assets, such as the $18 million valuation of his oceanfront Mar-a-Lago estate. Nevertheless, Engoron, who decided the case without a jury, found Trump liable for the massive sum, plus nearly $100 million interest, writing the Trump Organization’s “complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological.”

In addition to the hefty sum, Trump is barred from serving as an officer or director of any New York corporation for three years, and is prohibited from taking out loans from New York banks. As the financial capital of America, this could prove problematic for Trump moving forward. Even for a wealthy man, this is no small obstacle.

This was bound to happen in one of the bluest districts in America, determined to take down Trump at all costs. The only questions now are whether Trump has any more tricks up his sleeve.

Does Trump have to pay?

The short answer is, yes. It will be up to the court to decide how much cash Trump will have to put up as he mounts an appeal, University of Michigan Law Professor Will Thomas told The Associated Press (AP). Standard practice holds that the full amount is deposited to the court, pending appeal. After the appeal, the money will officially change hands.

“New York’s judicial system has shown a willingness to move quickly on some of these Trump issues,” Thomas reportedly said. “When we hear from the first appellate court, that’s a point where money is almost certainly going to change hands.”

Alternatively, Trump could secure an appeal bond for a lower amount, but that would require putting up collateral for a case where he was found to have fraudulently inflated the value of his assets, the AP reported. Additionally, he is not permitted from taking out a loan in New York, further complicating this option, according to Reuters. (RELATED: ‘They Are Lunatics’: Trump Blasts Letitia James, Judge After Civil Fraud Case Ruling)

After appeal, it’s not uncommon for the total amount to be reduced.  In fact, the appellate court could reportedly put the entire ruling on hold pending appeal, which could then be settled as early as the summer, according to Thomas. However, does anyone think a New York court is going to cut Trump a break at this point?

Can Trump afford it?

It’s not quite clear. Billionaires are not wealthy because they have a billion dollars in a checking account. Typically, their wealth comes from a complex portfolio of non-liquid assets. In Trump’s case, his self-estimated $10 billion net worth stems much more from real estate than it does cash in the bank.

As of Oct. 2023, Trump reportedly had $425 million cash on hand. If true, that would still not be enough to cover the entire sum from Friday, let alone the other settlements in the E. Jean Carroll cases.

Unlike Trump’s other legal foibles, he cannot use campaign funds because the civil fraud case is not related to his campaign, or conduct as a candidate or politician, Reuters reported.

However, Daniel Weiner, director of the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program, reportedly said if Trump were to use super PAC money, “the likelihood of the Federal Election Commission in its current configuration pursuing these violations is not terribly great.”

This is a jab at the supposed partisan makeup of the FEC, the majority of whom were appointed by Trump. Yet it would be foolish of Trump to assume a free hand for this reason.

What if he doesn’t pay?

If he doesn’t pay, he faces the same penalties as everyone else: additional penalties, asset seizure and eventually, imprisonment. However, it’s unlikely to escalate this far, as even Reuters admitted.

Is there any recourse?

“President Trump will of course appeal and remains confident the Appellate Division will ultimately correct the innumerable and catastrophic errors made by a trial court untethered to the law or to reality,” Trump lawyer Christopher Kise stated, according to ABC.

The appeal will likely hinge on three key points: that his supposed fraud produced no victims, that Judge Engoron was a biased actor and that James’ suit employed improper legal mechanisms in the first place. All of these arguments were made during the original trial, and Trump himself has pointed them out many times. The “no victims” defense refers to the lenders, whom Trump supposedly defrauded, being paid back in full regardless of the original valuations provided. (RELATED: CNN Senior Legal Analyst Lays Out 3 Possible Defenses For Trump In NY Civil Case)

On first appeal, the case will go to the five-judge panel of the New York Appellate Division, a mid-level court. If that fails, he can appeal to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

But George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley points out the real kicker in the New York Post: “Under New York law, Trump cannot appeal this ruling without depositing the full amount, including interest, in a court account.”

Trump must come up with the full amount, plus interest — nearly half a billion dollars — or an equivalent bond in order to appeal the case.

Where does the money go?

Since there was, in fact, no harm, Trump will not be paying to make his victims whole. It’s here that the real grift is revealed. The money will likely go to the very people targeting him — back to the city and state of New York.