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As I See It: What does it mean when no one is above the law, gag order?

As we move on watching in television how House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted from his position by his GOP colleagues, we are confronted with many more developments such as the meaning of no one is above the law and the gag order.

Well, this means that no person, government official or government is above the law following principles that are fundamental in preserving the rule of law: All people are ruled by the law. Law enforcers, the government and judges must adhere to the law without bias or prejudice(Rule of Law Education Centre)

In ordinary parlance, this idiom is often used to describe people in high-level positions who wrongly believe they should not have to obey rules or laws because they think they are too important or too powerful. Idiom:  above the law means not having to obey the law or rules; not required to follow rules or standards (Oyster English).

As we witnessed the appearance of former President Donald Trump (Monday) before Judge Arthur Engoron in the $250 million civil case against him, we are reminded of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ initial statement when Judge Engoron ruled against Trump – “no one is above the law.”

 Before the trial yesterday, James reiterated her position that Trump for years engaged in “persistent and repeated fraud.” “No matter how powerful you are, and no matter how much money you think you have, no one is above the law,” she said on her way into the courthouse before Judge Engoron.

The judge overseeing the civil trial of former President Donald Trump in New York issued a gag order barring those involved in the case from posting information about his staff. Trump is facing allegations he and his company falsified business and personal records for financial gain. (CBS News chief election and campaign correspondent Robert Costa reports).

Judge Arthur Engoron told all participants in the case not to smear court personnel, warning of “serious sanctions” if they do. Rebuking Donald Trump, judge
Engoron imposed a limited gag order Tuesday in the former president’s civil business fraud trial and ordered him to delete a social media post that publicly maligned a key court staffer. (New York, AP)

“Personal attacks on members of my court staff are unacceptable, not appropriate, and I will not tolerate them,” Engoron said after complaining — without naming names — about a defendant’s” disparaging, untrue and personally identifying post about a member of my staff.”

In a separate article by Matthew J. Galluzzo, he stated that a gag order basically instructs a party to a litigation to refrain from speaking publicly about the case. Galluzzo said New York judge overseeing a criminal case has the power to issue a gag order over one or more of the parties to the case. Gag orders are relatively rare, however. They certainly are not done as a matter of routine. The Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, after all, and courts are generally loath to abridge those rights. However, gag orders may be necessary to protect other valuable rights under the Constitution, such as the right to a fair trial (contained in the Sixth Amendment of the Bill of Rights), as well as the all-important “true administration of justice”.

Just like what judge Engoron has done, a gag order can be imposed upon a defendant where the defendant makes deliberate attempts to undermine the “true administration of justice” by tampering with the jury pool and making extrajudicial statements. Already, Mr. Trump has made numerous postings in social media (Truth Social etc.) about the alleged bias of the prosecutor and the trial judge, and slammed the charges as being baseless and politically motivated, among other things.

Reports said that Mr. Trump might argue that his statements about the case relate to his campaign for president. While that may be true in part, there is no question that he hopes to persuade potential jurors of his innocence by making these claims about the case. In the least, he has to be aware of the fact that his public statements about the case – which immediately become the subject of numerous national media stores – could taint the jury pool in Manhattan. So, a gag order seems likely in this case. In short, if Mr. Trump wants to speak to the jurors in his case, he will have to take the oath and subject himself to cross-examination.

Given what we know of Mr. Trump’s personality and character, it seems inevitable that he would violate such a gag order (in fact he already started it) and speak publicly about the charges. Notwithstanding his general inclination to talk about everything that crosses his mind, it would actually be difficult to run for president without discussing pending criminal charges against oneself. So, then, it is worth asking what would happen if Mr. Trump were to violate the gag order.

Pursuant to NY Judiciary Law Section 750, violations of gag orders are prosecuted by courts.  A court would have to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the issue of the violation of the court order before rendering a decision. The decision would be made by the court and not a jury. The maximum jail punishment for a violation would be 30 days at rikers Island.

While Trump is supposedly not scheduled to appear, he voluntarily appeared in court, for many understood as a campaign gimmick, to further solidify his lead in the on-going GOP primary leading to the expected showdown with Pres. Joe Biden during the 2024 election. The way its going, Trump will likely get the nod of GOP as their standard bearer for the 2024 election and Biden as the standard bearer of the Democrats due to the doctrine of the equity of the incumbent. So, expect a showdown of Biden vs. Trump in 2024!

Lately, Mr. Trump has been using all his legal setbacks as campaign gimmicks in order to further his ambition of going back to the White House in 2024.

In September 2022, Trump, together with his three children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump — several other company executives and the Trump Organization itself were sued in September 2022 by James. The Trumps and their company are accused of fraud, falsification of business records, issuing false financial statements and conspiracy, among other allegations. The attorney general has accused Trump of overstating his wealth by billions of dollars, and the value of many properties by hundreds of millions, while seeking loans. He has denied wrongdoing.

When Trump arrived in court, photographers were briefly allowed in the courtroom and took pictures of him sitting at the defense table alongside his attorneys, who commented that he is in court to “fight for his name and reputation.”

Trump spoke to the media after arriving at court Monday, denying the fraud allegations and saying, “What we have here is an attempt to hurt me in an election.”

On his social media site, Trump has called Engoron a “political hack” and a “deranged, Trump hating judge.” He has for years maligned James and the investigation, accusing her of pursuing him for political gain.

In a statement released Monday ahead of the trial, James said: “For years, Donald Trump falsely inflated his net worth to enrich himself and cheat the system. … No matter how rich or powerful you are, there are not two sets of laws for people in this country. The rule of law must apply equally to everyone, and it is my responsibility to make sure that it does.”

Trump attorney Christopher Kise has argued that what the attorney general calls overvaluations are actually examples of Trump’s “genius,” arguing in court that Trump is “a master at finding value where others see nothing.”

Kise might be correct because Trump declared bankruptcy several times in the past, but he made money out it by finding some loopholes in the law.

Reports said that Engoron’s decision could terminate Trump’s control over a flagship commercial property at 40 Wall Street in Lower Manhattan and a family estate in Westchester County. Mr. Trump might also lose control over his other New York properties, including Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan and his golf club in Westchester.

While the order will not dissolve Mr. Trump’s company itself, which is a collection of hundreds of entities, it could nonetheless have a huge impact on the company’s New York operations.

Mr. Trump can appeal his case, but if Engoron’s decision is not reversed by an appeals court, it could shut down an entity that employs hundreds of people working for him in New York, effectively crushing the company.