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NY AG Letitia James Reflects on Law School, Trump Win

Howard Law helped build AG Letitia James’ foundation that helped her win against former President Trump in a civil fraud case.

Long before becoming the first woman elected to her position in 2019, New York State Attorney General Letitia and recently made history in her landmark civil fraud case victory against Donald Trump on Feb. 16. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the New York State Attorney General)

New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur F. Engoron ruled in favor of New York Attorney General Letitia James in her civil fraud lawsuit against former president Donald Trump, his two adult sons and former executives on Feb. 16. 

The victory resulted from a lawsuit James filed in September 2022, accusing Trump and involved entities of falsely inflating his net worth to get better loans.

Attorney General James spoke to The Hilltop about the role that Howard University School of Law played in preparing her for that moment in her career. 

James emphasized the significance of the victory and holding the former president accountable for his fraud and deception, regardless of any power afforded to him during his presidency. 

“It’s important to understand that the case we brought [against Trump] was not a criminal case — it was a civil case,” James told The Hilltop.

“What we are seeking is some injunctive term that the former President does not engage in this pattern and practice of fraud in the state of New York going forward and that we disgorge him of all of the profits that he benefited from as a result of his mistakes,” she said.

In his decision, Justice Engoron ordered Trump and co-defendants to pay New York state $450 million, with $363.8 million representing disgorgement and prejudgment interest. According to the Associated Press, Trump’s debt continues to accrue an additional $112,000 daily until the payment is satisfied.

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James credits part of her success to the foundation she received at Howard University School of Law. She mentioned the value of learning from professors who worked to dismantle legal segregation and “who stood up against a system that unfortunately oppressed the rights of African Americans and others in this nation.”

After reading about the history of the civil rights movement at a young age, James said that she always wanted to attend Howard University and pursue a career in public service.  

“I wanted to feel and be a part of that history, recognizing that it flows through my DNA, but it needed to be awakened,” James said. “I saw a need in my community and wanted to put a voice to all the individuals who are struggling each and every day.”

Fellow Howard alumna, retired police captain and professor of criminal justice at Howard University, Sonia Pruitt, credits Howard with cultivating the strong sense of identity and confidence needed to navigate the world of criminal justice as a Black woman.

“Howard establishes awareness of the need for systemic change in the criminal justice system,” Pruitt said. “That’s what Attorney General Letitia James has given us — a commitment to service that permeates education.”

Pruitt expressed that James’ win against Trump helped to establish a valuable precedent and foundation for future cases in both civil fraud and white-collar crime.

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“The legal strategies that Letitia James has used in her arguments, and even the outcome of the case can serve as a reference point for prosecutors, judges and legal scholars in future cases involving prominent figures,” Pruitt said. 

Elan Watson, a senior and political science major, legal communications minor from Columbus, Ohio, says she aspires to become a prosecutor. Inspired by James’ legacy in law and public service, Watson shared that she values seeing Black women like James accomplish such feats in the criminal justice system. 

“I feel pride seeing another Black woman at that level,” Watson said. “I believe that ‘if she can do it, then I can do it,’ and it keeps me pushing forward.”

For Howard students intending to follow in her footsteps and become prosecutors, Attorney General James provided advice and a call to action.

“Everyone is equally entitled to the protection of the law [and] the law should be applied equally and fairly,” James said. “No one should sit by idly and allow anyone to subvert the law or trespass on their rights. Individuals must stand up and not be silent in the face of injustice.”

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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