- The $10K-a-day contempt-of-court fine Donald Trump owes NY AG Letitia James hit $100K on Thursday.
- The fines will continue to mount until Trump signs what’s called a “Jackson affidavit.”
- The affidavit is named for Christophena Jackson, who fell through a South Bronx stairwell in 1984.
On Thursday, the $10,000-a-day contempt-of-court fine that former President Donald Trump owes to New York Attorney General Letitia James hit the $100,000 mark.
The fine is Trump’s penalty for failing to comply with the AG’s subpoena for his personal business documents — and it will keep mounting each day, accruing even on the weekends, until he gives a Manhattan judge something called a “Jackson affidavit.”
So what is a Jackson affidavit? And why is it taking so long? And who was this Jackson, anyway?
First, some background on what the judge wants from Trump, in order to stop the fine.
In demanding Trump swear out a Jackson affidavit, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron was ordering the former president to sign a first-person explanation, under oath, describing in detail why his search for the personal business documents James wants has come up utterly empty.
“I want to know who did these searches,” the judge said in explaining why a bare-bones, one-page affidavit Trump handed in last week was woefully inadequate. “When did they look? What were they looking for?”
The very first Jackson affidavit
The story of the Jackson affidavit — so critical to what happens next in the AG’s probe of Trump’s business — stretches back almost 40 years.
It’s a story that began when a woman named Christophena Jackson was nearly swallowed alive by the crumbling stairway of her South Bronx apartment building.
It was at around 3:30 p.m. on October 11, 1984. Jackson, 64, was walking down the stairwell of her New York City-owned building at 970 Prospect Avenue.
Somewhere between the second and third floor, one of the marble steps gave way as she set her foot on it.
“When I stepped on one of the steps on the stairway, it collapsed,” she said in a deposition. “And I fell through the hole where the step had been prior to its collapse.
“I grabbed the window to stop me from going all the way through to the second floor.”
It turns out the entire building was in such bad shape, it was quickly condemned and cleared by the city of all tenants.
No records, scant explanation
Jackson was in bad shape too, injured permanently in her back, neck, arm and leg, her lawyers said.
But when she sued the city for $500,000 in 1987, three years after her fall, city lawyers did everything the AG is now accusing Trump of doing.
They delayed. Depositions of city workers who might know the location of important maintenance and inspection records were rescheduled by the city a dozen times, according to the case file.
They deflected. The city countersued a contractor, saying they were the ones who maintained the building and had the records. In fact, the contractor only handled the payroll for the building’s maintenance workers, not their records, a red herring that cost years of court time.
And when the city absolutely had to explain — by order of a judge — why they had zero maintenance and inspection records to give Jackson’s lawyer, they submitted a similarly tersely-worded affidavit, just three paragraphs long. (Read the original “Jackson affidavit” here.)
Frustrated by no records and scant explanation, Jackson’s lawyers took the case to the appellate court that sits in Manhattan — the same courthouse now handling Trump’s appeal of his contempt order.
The court ruled that the city should be sanctioned for failing to say “where the subject records were likely to be kept, what efforts, if any, were made to preserve them, whether such records were routinely destroyed, or whether a search had been conducted in every location where the records were likely to be found.”
The sanction ordered by the appellate court was this: should the case go to trial, jurors would be instructed to assume the city knew about the dilapidated stairs, and did nothing to fix them.
It’s no surprise that the city settled the case shortly after the appellate decision, for an undisclosed sum.
And since 1992, the decision has become New York case law, cited scores of times in motions and decisions when individuals and companies fail to cough up subpoenaed records.
What’s next for Trump
Trump has a couple of other ways that the AG fines could stop.
The Manhattan judge who held Trump in contempt and set the $10,000-a-day fine — New York State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron — has hinted that he will consider ending the daily penalty at some point, without a Jackson affidavit, though he told Trump’s lawyer on Friday, “if you don’t hear from me, it’s still in effect.”
Trump can also hope that a panel of appellate judges in Manhattan will freeze the fine while he appeals the contempt order. So far, the lone appellate judge to consider the matter declined to do so in a ruling on Tuesday.
But Trump’s best chance at stopping the fine remains filing a Jackson affidavit, named for that woman in the South Bronx who fell through her apartment stairwell four decades ago.
Trump attorney Alina Habba did not respond when asked via email how the affidavit was coming. So just why Trump would rather keep paying $10,000 a day than swear one out remains a mystery.
“Maybe he just doesn’t want to, and doesn’t feel like he has to,” said Marc Frazier Scholl, a former senior investigative counsel with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office who has been following the AG’s case.
As for the mounting fine, “It’s clearly not meaningful to him,” said Scholl, a white collar crime expert who now works for Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss in Manhattan.
“Because it hasn’t happened,” Scholl continued. “It’s an account. It doesn’t exist. It’s an inchoate obligation that, at this point, no one is collecting on.”