When the judge presiding over Donald Trump’s bank fraud trial reminded him this week that he alone would decide his fate, the irate former president leaned toward the lawyer to his left and grumbled, “I wish I had a jury trial.” had,” say two people who overheard him.
But there’s a reason Trump won’t get a jury trial: His own lawyers didn’t ask for one. At least, according to court documents and the lawyers themselves, they didn’t ask for it through the proper legal channels and on the proper legal timeline.
In recent days, Trump and his allies have complained that the case of the New York attorney general – who was already doomed to liquidate his real estate companies and possibly empty his bank accounts – ended up in the hands of one man, Judge Arthur F .Engoron.
Day after day outside the courtroom, Trump angry complained his “Democratic judge,” and he claims it was a “rigged trial” because he was denied the right to a verdict before a six-member jury.
Meanwhile, on social media, anti-MAGA schadenfreude is in full swing with an inaccurate story that Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba simply forgot to “check off a box” to request a jury trial.
The reality is a little more complex.
Technically, Habba requested a jury trial. The Daily Beast was in court when she did it. But neither she nor anyone else on the entire defense team — Christopher Kise, Michael Madaio, Armen Morian — ever followed suit. In truth, in the truest sense of the word technically, His attorneys did not request a jury trial. At least they never did so on paper.
At the AG’s office alarmed After telling the court and Trump’s lawyers that they were ready for trial, Trump’s defense team missed the 15-day deadline to respond, according to court documents.
There are a few possible reasons why Trump’s lawyers ultimately didn’t make the formal request. What many legal experts prefer is that they simply forgot about it. That’s certainly possible given their previous personal statements that they wanted a jury trial, but it’s not the only scenario.
Another possible reason they didn’t request a jury is that they didn’t think it was worth the time. In this scenario, Trump’s lawyers calculated that they would not get a jury and that any time spent doing so would be futile. That’s certainly possible, given some of the explanations his team gave to The Daily Beast on Thursday.
But the third possible reason is more Machiavellian in nature. His lawyers may have wanted to poison the well – they appeared to stick with a judge they don’t like, using the fight as a fundraising tactic and appealing every one of his decisions to the appeals court.
In any case, the fact that Trump’s lawyers are the reason he didn’t get a jury trial should suck the air out of the former president’s breathless complaints.
Even worse for the legal team is the fact that Trump might actually have gotten a jury if his lawyers had asked for it in a timely manner.
The Daily Beast reviewed court records and drew on New York case law to paint a fuller picture of an issue that has dogged the trial since it began on Monday — especially with Engoron’s decisions already weighing so heavily on the future of Trump’s real estate empire. Even before the trial began, the judge concluded that the former president routinely lied to banks by inflating the value of his many properties. The judge has already ruled that Trump’s companies should lose their business licenses. It was clear from the start that Trump would receive a legal flogging over the next three months.
But it wasn’t always obvious that Trump was doomed.
The question of a jury trial first came up on a Friday morning Court hearing on March 3, when Engoron said he wanted to get a sense of whether either side wanted him to try the case alone or with the help of a jury. By then, he had already mediated much of the dispute during the investigative phase between the attorney general’s office and the Trumps, increasingly forcing the family to comply with subpoenas. Engoron was also already the victim of a defense effort to exclude him from the case.
In other words, They had a story.
Kevin Wallace, the AG’s senior litigation counsel, indicated that under state rules it would likely be a jury trial, but even he didn’t seem entirely sure. The judge actually refused and seemed open to the idea of a strange separate trial where the jury could decide the facts of the case and he would decide on the appropriate remedies.
Engoron left the door open for Habba (representing Trump) and Clifford Robert (defending Don Jr. and Eric Trump).
“What kind of process will this be?” he asked. Habba made her preferences clear — and even suggested that it might be perceived by the public that consolidating so much control with the judge might seem unfair.
“Your Honor, we would prefer a jury trial. I think that would, frankly, alleviate a lot of our concerns about any impartiality,” she said. “So I think we can feel confident that justice will be properly served, that it will be heard fairly and openly, and that someone who may not have been part of the special trial, obviously our preference is, a jury trial.”
“And you want a jury trial on every count, for the entire trial?” Engoron replied.
“Your Honor, I would be open to a discussion about what you think is appropriate,” she replied. “Of course I would rely on what you think is appropriate, but we would like to have a jury trial, at least, I should say, for my clients, for Donald Trump, the Trump Organization entities and the other defendants.”
After checking with Wallace again, the judge left the matter open.
“We don’t have to decide today and we won’t,” he said.
But when it actually came time to make a decision, Trump’s legal team remained conspicuously silent. New York state court rules state that if one side of a lawsuit alerts the court by filing a so-called “note of issue” that the discovery phase of the lawsuit has ended, the other side has 15 days to request a jury trial exchange of documents in a case has ended.
The AG’s office I submitted this on July 31, check a box that says “trial without jury.” But as time went on, Trump’s lawyers simply didn’t respond. In fact, the next time defense attorneys filed anything in the case was more than a week after the deadline — on a completely independent matter about insurance documents.
Their inaction left the decision up to the judge, who sided with the only one who spoke up: the AG’s office.
Fast forward to this week, and Trump has been all over the place complaining about a situation his own team created.
“This is a total witch hunt where I can’t even have a jury,” Trump said Posted this week on his Truth social media network.
On Thursday afternoon, The Daily Beast met members of Trump’s legal team on their way out of the civil courthouse in Manhattan and asked why they hadn’t filed a response. Morian suggested the second theoretical scenario as a reason – that it wasn’t even worth trying, citing his more than ten years of experience working on exactly these types of cases.
“You are not entitled to a jury trial pursuant to Executive Law 63(12), item. It is a fair law. There is no right to trial,” he said. “I have prosecuted cases in the Attorney General’s Office for 13 years using this law and the Martin Act. Under 63(12) there is no jury trial, that is the answer. It’s not up to the judge. There is no jury trial.”
He was referring to the fact that the attorney general’s office in this case was seeking so-called equitable relief, in which a court wanted to force the Trumps to do certain things – namely, award more than $250 million for lying about property valuations pay and dissolve the many companies that own these properties.
In 1947 he was already a state judge in New York decided that “parties in such cases are not entitled as a matter of law to a jury trial.” But in 1964 another state judge came along clarified that the New York Civil Court Rules allow for a “deliberative jury” – and it is still up to the judge to preside over the case. So Judge Engoron seemed open to the idea and left the decision to the lawyers.
Morian acknowledged that this was an option, but thought it was far-fetched.
“In the rarest of cases, there may be questions of fact that can be heard by a jury. But that is extremely rare,” he said.
The Daily Beast asked whether it was extremely rare to have a former president on trial.
Morian still emphasized that victory in seeking a jury trial is not guaranteed.
“You have no right,” he said.