George Washington University Law professor Jonathan Turley suggested Friday that New York Attorney General Letitia James’ push for $250 million in penalties and the dissolution of former President Donald Trump’s companies could render her civil fraud case against him “unconstitutional.”

James’ case that the former president committed fraud by inflating his net worth and overvaluing assets met challenges during the trial this week as a Deutsche Bank employee testified that adjustments made to Trump’s net worth were not out of the ordinary, and documents revealed the bank was eager to land Trump as a client. If Judge Arthur Engoron sides with James’ effort to impose “dissolution and crippling damages,” it could “trigger a higher-court review” Turley wrote for The Messenger.

“It is relatively rare for civil damages to trigger constitutional review, and it is still far from clear that this case will rise to that level,” Turley wrote.

“The New York law is unique in allowing massive penalties without the loss of a single dollar by a bank,” he continued. “However, James wants dissolution and crippling damages, and that could trigger a higher-court review.”

In the 1996 case BMW of North America v. Gore, the Supreme Court found that $2 million in punitive fines imposed on a company that repainted cars damaged in transit without informing customers violated the Due Process clause because it was “grossly excessive,” Turley said.

“One distinction between that case and the Trump proceeding is that the Supreme Court found no intentionally false statements by BMW — but effective dissolution of Trump’s business and a quarter-billion dollars in damages may raise analogous concerns over excessive penalties,” he wrote.

“In the Trump case, the banks made money.” Turley continued. “It would be akin to the car owner’s value going up with the paint job but still hitting BMW with punitive damages.”

In a November 2011 email, then-managing director of Deutsche Bank Rosemary Vrablic told colleagues after meeting with Donald Trump Jr. that they were “whale hunting,” a reference to a very wealthy client, according to The Associated Press.

“[G]iven the circles this family travels in, we expect to be introduced to the wealthiest people on the planet,” Vrablic also said in a 2011 email, according to the AP.

Katelynn Richardson on December 1, 2023
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