NEW YORK (NEWSnet/AP) — A New York appeals court judge on Thursday paused a gag order that barred Donald Trump from commenting on court staffers in his civil fraud trial.

The trial judge had imposed the gag order last month and later fined Trump $15,000 for violations after the former president made a disparaging social media post about a court clerk.

In his decision, Judge David Friedman of the state’s intermediate appeals court cited constitutional concerns about restricting Trump’s free speech. He issued a stay of the gag order, allowing Trump to comment freely about court staff while a longer appeals process plays out.

Trump’s lawyers filed a lawsuit against the trial judge, Arthur Engoron, late Wednesday challenging the gag order as an abuse of power.

Trump’s lawyers had asked the appeals judge to scrap the gag order and fines imposed by the trial judge, Arthur Engoron, after the former president and his attorneys claimed that a law clerk was wielding improper influence.

Trump and his lawyers have repeatedly put the law clerk, Allison Greenfield, under a microscope during the trial. They contend that the former Democratic judicial candidate is a partisan voice in Judge Arthur Engoron’s ear — though he also is a Democrat — and that she is playing too big a role in the case involving the former Republican president.

Engoron has responded by defending her role in the courtroom, ordering participants in the trial not to comment on court staffers and fining Trump a total of $15,000 for what the judge deemed violations. Engoron went on last week to prohibit attorneys in the case from commenting on “confidential communications” between him and his staff.

Trump’s lawyers — who, separately, sought a mistrial Wednesday — contend that Engoron’s orders are unconstitutionally suppressing free speech, and not just any free speech.

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