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Trump’s wild week in court ends with a nine-figure loss

Welcome back, Deadline: Legal Newsletter readers. It was another wild week in the legal world of Donald Trump, with action in all four of the leading GOP presidential candidate’s criminal cases — including at the Supreme Court. Plus, the former president and his civil co-defendants (including his adult sons) got hit with a whopping ruling in the civil fraud case.

Judge Arthur Engoron ordered more than $350 million in penalties in that New York civil case, along with temporary New York business bars for Eric, Don Jr. and Trump himself. In a scathing opinion, the state judge observed the defendants’ “complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological.” The judge conceded that Trump isn’t Bernie Madoff, but went on to write that the defendants “are incapable of admitting the error of their ways.”

On Trump’s criminal immunity claim, he waited until his Monday deadline to ask the justices to keep the federal election interference case paused while he keeps appealing. Special counsel Jack Smith responded ahead of his deadline to oppose further delay, while floating a backup option of the justices treating Trump’s stay application as a petition for review, granting it and expediting a decision on the immunity issue that’s been holding up the trial. We could hear from the justices any time on their decision.

Meanwhile, we have a date in New York. On Thursday in Manhattan state court, Judge Juan Merchan made clear that Trump will stand trial later next month on March 25. That means the hush money case for alleged 2016 election interference will be the first criminal trial against a former president. He’s charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records for allegedly attempting to cover up hush money paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election that vaulted him into the White House.

Then there’s Georgia. It’s an understatement to call this week’s disqualification hearing dramatic. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis herself took the stand to defend the propriety of her relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade. That was after a defense witness contradicted the state’s position that Willis and Wade’s romantic relationship only started after he was hired to work on the case against Trump and others for their alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election in the state. Judge Scott McAfee hasn’t yet ruled on the matter, but if he finds grounds to boot Willis from the case, then that could require another DA’s office taking over, which would at least mean further delay in the case that doesn’t even have a trial date yet.

Speaking of Trump’s legal delays, federal Judge Aileen Cannon held closed-door hearings over access to classified documents in Smith’s other prosecution. Notably, the judge — who’s seemingly been slow-walking the case so far — rejected Trump’s attempt to delay a deadline for pretrial motions next week. But we’re still a ways away from seeing when this one will go to trial. Cannon previously set a May trial date but an upcoming March 1 scheduling conference could provide more clarity. Depending on what happens in the pending immunity appeal, the federal election interference case may slide into the late spring or summer, after the New York trial.

Next week, Supreme Court justices retake the bench for regularly scheduled orders and arguments. Intriguingly, the high court has marked Wednesday as an opinion day. We could even see a decision in Trump v. Anderson, over the former president’s ballot eligibility. It may be early yet for that one, but we’ll be watching.

And, finally, a mea culpa: last week’s newsletter incorrectly referred to this week’s hearings in Georgia and New York as set for Friday, not Thursday (though the Georgia hearing extended through Friday).

Have any questions or comments for me? I’d love to hear from you! Please email deadlinelegal@nbcuni.com for a chance to be featured in a future newsletter. 

Jordan Rubin

Jordan Rubin is the Deadline: Legal Blog writer. He was a prosecutor for the New York County District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan and is the author of “Bizarro,” a book about the secret war on synthetic drugs. Before he joined MSNBC, he was a legal reporter for Bloomberg Law.

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