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Trump wins new chance to oppose release of NY land records

Erik Larson

President Donald Trump’s company convinced a New York judge to reconsider an order that would have forced its former attorney to hand over hundreds of documents to state officials trying to determine whether the real-estate business falsely reported property values to get loans or tax benefits.

Last month, Justice Arthur Engoron ruled that state Attorney General Letitia James can enforce some subpoenas as part of her probe of the Trump Organization. But Engoron said Wednesday that his ruling had “overlooked” factors that warranted letting the judge review some of the documents first.

Justice Arthur Engoron

The judge granted a Trump Organization request to re-argue whether its former land-use lawyer had waived attorney-client privilege over files in his possession by failing to give the state an accurate log of the protected documents. It’s a procedural setback for James, though the judge may still decide to hand the documents over after reviewing them privately.

James had argued the lawyer, Charles Martabano, failed to provide a proper log of the documents “despite repeated opportunities and attempts.” She took took legal action in August, culminating in a ruling in her favor that required Trump’s Manhattan-based company to start handing over more documents and forced the president’s son, Eric Trump, to sit for a sworn deposition this week.

President Donald Trump, left, and New York State Attorney General Letitia James.

Martabano’s lawyer, George Calcagnini, and James’s office declined to comment on Engoron’s ruling.

Martabano gave sworn testimony in a deposition with state investigators in July after initially refusing to appear, according to court papers.

The documents he holds are likely to shed light on the Trump Organization’s effort to develop Seven Springs, an obscure property on 212 acres outside New York City that’s the centerpiece of the probe. The AG is examining whether the Trump Organization gave an accurate valuation for the property when it was used to claim about $21.1 million in tax deductions for donating a conservation easement for the 2015 tax year.

During his deposition, Martabano was repeatedly advised by his lawyer not to answer questions about his communications with Eric Trump or anyone else at the Trump Organization, even when the questions didn’t relate to legal advice, New York claimed in its August petition to enforce the subpoenas.

James is investigating whether the Trump Organization falsely reported the value of various assets to secure loans and get tax benefits as alleged last year by the president’s former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, who has fallen out with his ex-boss. Trump’s 40 Wall Street skyscraper and his Chicago hotel are among the properties that are part of the probe.