Former President Donald Trump has infamously attacked the judge presiding over his civil trial in New York for business fraud with regular frequency as the case has moved forward, so legal observers were surprised to learn that his legal team had declined to request a jury trial — leaving the ultimate verdict solely in that one judge’s hands via Media Ite.
New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit against the Trump Organization seeks penalties of $250 million and to ban Trump and his adult children from doing business in New York.
Last week, Judge Arthur Engoron granted James’ motion for summary judgment, dealing a major setback to former President Trump. The judge determined that Trump committed fraud by grossly inflating the value of his assets and exaggerating his net worth to obtain financing and finalize deals. This was the central allegation in James’ legal action against Trump.
Engoron’s order also stripped the business certifications of the Trump Organization and related defendant corporate entities and directed a receiver to be put in place to “manage the dissolution” of those businesses. “Questions remain as to how the receiver would dissolve the properties; whether the ruling would impact properties outside of New York state, including Mar-a-Lago; and whether the Trumps could transfer the New York-based assets into a new company out of state,” CNN reported.
After the ruling, Trump expressed his anger on Truth Social using all-caps and criticizing Engoron and James, calling their actions a “politically motivated Witch Hunt.” It is worth noting that he mentioned not being given the right to a jury.
Trump again went after Engoron in his comments before the trial began on Monday morning, calling him a “rogue judge” and saying the trial was “a scam and a sham.”
Contrary to Trump’s complaint that he was “not even allowed” to have a jury, he absolutely did have the power to demand a jury trial, if only his attorneys had checked a single box on the front page of a standard New York court document.
In a civil case, it is within the rights of both parties to request a jury trial. Nevertheless, if neither side chooses to do so, the trial can proceed without a jury. In the present situation, the prosecutors have opted not to request a jury trial, which is clear from a screenshot of the first page of their Notice for Trial. They have checked the box indicating that they want a “Trial without jury.”
Monday morning as the trial began, Engoron confirmed that he would be the finder of fact instead of a jury because “nobody asked for” a jury trial.
It’s not entirely clear why Trump’s attorneys didn’t request a jury trial. As Los Angeles Times senior legal affairs columnist Harry Litman noted, “[i]t’s incredibly easy” to do so and only requires you to “just check a box on a form.”
“Hard to believe that Trump understood his lawyers hadn’t done it when he’s been savaging the judge who is now the factfinder in his huge fraud trial,” Litman added.