Meet Arthur Engoron, the 'somewhat quirky' judge deciding fate of Trump and his businesses in civil trial

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Judge Arthur Engoron is presiding in a bench trial in Manhattan to resolve remaining claims in a New York civil fraud lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, his company and top executives. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The New York trial judge who is presiding in the state’s civil fraud trial against former President Donald Trump is a former cab driver and music teacher who has a penchant for pop culture references and puns.

The New York Times describes Justice Arthur Engoron, 74, as “a former cabby with a shock of white hair and a penchant for cracking jokes from the bench.” He is “independent and thoughtful—if somewhat quirky,” the story says.

In a separate story, the New York Times calls Engoron “a charismatic and eccentric judge who has been a thorn in the side of Mr. Trump and his lawyers for more than a year.”

In the trial beginning this week, Engoron will decide remaining claims against Trump and his adult sons after ruling last week that they were liable for civil fraud. One issue to be decided is how much Trump must disgorge for the financial benefits he incurred by inflating his net worth in statements provided to lenders and insurers.

The case is being resolved in a bench trial because New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking equitable relief and precedent bans jury trials in such cases. Some lawyers suggest, however, that Trump’s lawyers could have argued that the $250 million in disgorgement sought by James amounts to a penalty that entitles their client to a jury trial.

The New York Times, Reuters and Bloomberg Law have stories on what’s at stake in the trial, while the Associated Press, Reuters and the New York Post have stories on Engoron’s background.

Engoron, a Democrat, grew up in Queens and Long Island, where he wrote for the school newspaper and was a member of the track team, the AP story reports. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in English literature at Columbia University and graduated from the New York University School of Law in 1979, according to AP and the New York Post.

Engoron disclosed in 2012 that he drove a cab while at Columbia. “I loved the freedom, the instant cash, getting to meet people, learning how to drive like a maniac without being caught,” he said.

He also taught piano and drums and played keyboard in a bar band. He is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a one-time Vietnam War protester.

Engoron worked in private practice for more than a decade, served as a law clerk for 11 years at the trial-level state supreme court, was appointed in 2003 to the New York City civil court, and was elected to the state supreme court in 2015.

Engoron has “shown moments of levity” during the proceedings, according to Reuters. It points to his quip at a Sept. 22 hearing, when he said he tried to appear neutral during arguments.

“I did smile two or three times,” he said, “but that was at the sketch artist.”

AP cites another instance. On Sept. 27, lawyers representing Trump and the New York attorney general reached a rare agreement on procedural issues. “I knew this case would be a love fest,” Engoron said.

On Truth Social, Trump has described Engoron as a “a Deranged, Trump Hating Judge, who RAILROADED this FAKE CASE through a NYS Court at a speed never before seen.”

Updated Oct. 5 at 8:51 a.m. to report on debate over right to a jury trial.

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