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Judge in Trump's New York fraud trial explains why there's no jury

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Allen Weisselberg takes the stand in Trump civil fraud trial 03:20

Former President Donald Trump did not request a jury for his New York civil fraud trial, but even if he had asked for one, the answer would've been "no," a judge said Wednesday.

Judge Arthur Engoron addressed an issue that had been the subject of speculation on social media and by Trump himself, saying it "keeps coming up," even though he doesn't "read the papers or go online to read about" the trial.

Engoron is presiding over the bench trial of a $250 million lawsuit filed in 2022 by New York Attorney General Letitia James, in which she accused Trump, two of his sons, their company and other executives of years of widespread fraud. Engoron said that in paperwork certifying that the case was ready for trial, James' office checked a box suggesting it be a non-jury proceeding.

Trump's team had 15 days to oppose that, but did not, Engoron said, because there was no point in doing so.

"It would not have helped to make a motion. Nobody forgot to check off a box," Engoron said.

"Equitable" versus "legal" remedy

Justice Arthur Engoron speaks during the trial of former President Donald Trump in a civil fraud case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James at a Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023.
New York Justice Arthur Engoron, during the civil fraud trial of former President Donald Trump, on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. Shannon Stapleton/Pool Photo via AP

Engoron said the punishment being sought by the state is an "equitable" remedy, as opposed to a "legal" remedy.

A legal remedy is an award for damages, which can be determined by a jury. Earlier this year, a federal jury awarded the writer E. Jean Carroll $5 million in damages after finding Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation. The damages were not an amount Trump took from her, but rather a sum the jury concluded might remedy the emotional, physical and reputational harm Trump had caused.

In the ongoing New York fraud case, the state is seeking $250 million in disgorgement, a kind of equitable remedy that is a clawback of ill-gotten gains — the amount of benefit that the state says Trump and the co-defendants personally received from alleged fraud. Authorities cannot ask a jury to make that kind of calculation.

"That leaves it up to the judge," Engoron said.

Engoron earned the gratitude of one Trump lawyer who has insisted the lack of a jury was not due to an oversight.

"I would like to say thank you, your honor," said attorney Alina Habba, before turning to reporters in the gallery. "Press, did you hear that? I didn't forget to check the box."

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