After the jury awarded a total of $83.3 million, atop the $5.5 million awarded after the first trial that the defendant found unworthy of his appearance or testimony, Trump’s immediate response was that the award was “ridiculous” and he would appeal. Like any defendant, Trump has the right to an appeal to the Second Circuit, and if he’s demonstrated anything about his knowledge of law, it’s how to delay proceedings.
But what happens to this judgment in the meantime?
Mr. Trump can pay the $83.3 million to the court, which will hold the money while the appeal is pending. This is what he did last year when a jury ordered him to pay Ms. Carroll $5.5 million in a related case.
Or, Mr. Trump can try to secure a bond, which will save him from having to pay the full amount up front.
A bond might require him to pay a deposit and offer collateral, and would come with interest and fees. It would also require Mr. Trump to find a financial institution willing to lend him a large sum of money at a time when he is in significant legal jeopardy.
The benefit of paying the judgment sum into court is that there are no costs attached. Access to and use of the funds are prescribed, but at least you get the monies back if you win. An appeal bond is essentially an insurance policy. You pay a premium for insurance and post an amount of money as the bonding company requires to secure the policy. It’s not that the bonding company doesn’t trust losing defendants to pay the judgment. Oh wait, it is. If, after losing the appeal, the defendant does not pay the judgment, the bonding company is on the hook for payment.
How much of a bond would be required of a defendant like Trump? It’s not that he doesn’t have assets that could be attached and sold to cover the judgment and associated costs, but the assets are tied up with corporate entities, and it could be more difficult than one might imagine to distinguish Trump’s personal assets from the assets of corporations. There’s always the good old “piercing the corporate veil” tact, but that’s time-consuming, costly and may not necessarily win.
The bonding company isn’t buying a nightmare of litigation to assure the collection of a judgment against the defendant. They want their premium and, beyond that, a swift and pleasant parting of the ways.
There’s an inherent assumption that because someone is “really rich,” as Trump says when it’s in his interest to play “really rich,” that he is sufficiently liquid to cover either the judgment or the costs, fees and security required for a bond. Having a high net worth doesn’t mean you have a hundred mil lying around. Building are illiquid. They have to be sold and closed before they turn into cash. Of course, loans can be taken out on illiquid assets, but then interest has to be paid on the loans, as NY Attorney General Tish James notes with accusatory eyes.
But what if Trump doesn’t deposit the judgment into court or get an appeal bond to stay execution of judgment? Collecting a judgment can be more difficult than people realize. Available assets have to be located and seized. Bank accounts can be levied. Salaries can be garnished. But does Trump keep his money in his own account? Does he get a salary? Who owns the 33,000 11,000-square-foot Trump Towers penthouse? And even if it was sold at a sheriff’s sale, who would want an apartment with gold-plated toilets that rivals bordellos in tackiness?
At the moment, E. Jean Carroll has a piece of paper that says she’s owed $83.3 million from Trump. It remains to be seen whether the exemplary damages will be reduced or upheld. The amount awarded by a jury has about as much connection to reality as the length of a sentence imposed by a judge. It’s more about vibes that anything else, and this award says the jury felt some really bad vibes from Darth Cheeto.
But don’t assume that means Carroll will be flying around in a shabby old plane with the word “Trump” whited out on the tail. Trump has options that elude most defendants, and if nothing else works, there are all those moms and pops tossing in $5 an $10 to pay off Trump’s judgments.