Maryanne Trump Barry, a former federal judge who was an older sister of Donald J. Trump and served as both his protector and critic throughout their lives, has died. She was 86.
She died at her home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, according to three people familiar with the matter. Two of them said the police were called to the home early Monday morning. None of the people specified a cause, and all spoke on the condition of anonymity. A spokesman for Mr. Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
Judge Barry had been on the federal bench in New Jersey, a position that Mr. Trump’s fixer, the lawyer Roy M. Cohn, was credited with helping her attain during President Ronald Reagan’s tenure in the 1980s. She retired in 2019 after she became the focus of a court investigation stemming from an investigation by The New York Times into the Trump family’s tax practices.
Mr. Trump seemed to heed the words of few people as much as he did his eldest sister’s, according to confidants. But their relationship suffered a significant fissure in the final year of his presidency, when their niece Mary L. Trump, who was promoting a memoir about their family, released recordings of her aunt speaking harshly about the president.
A Republican, Judge Barry was appointed to the District Court in New Jersey by President Reagan in 1983. President Bill Clinton elevated her to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1993. She was the widow of John J. Barry, a veteran trial and appellate lawyer in New Jersey.
She stepped down from the bench after The Times found that the Trumps had engaged in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s to increase the inherited wealth of Mr. Trump and his siblings. Judge Barry not only benefited financially from most of these schemes, The Times found; she was also in a position to influence the actions taken by her family.
At the time, she had been listed as an inactive-senior judge for two years. Her retirement mooted the court investigation, since retired judges are not subject to judicial conduct rules.
Judge Barry’s scathing remarks about her brother were made in a series of audio recordings surreptitiously recorded by Mary Trump in 2018 and 2019 while Ms. Trump was working on the book “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man” (2020). The audiotapes, made available to The Washington Post, included criticism that went beyond other caustic comments contained in Ms. Trump’s book.
“His goddamned tweet and the lying — oh, my God,” Judge Barry said in one of the recordings. “I’m talking too freely, but, you know. The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying.”
At another point she said: “All he wants to do is appeal to his base. He has no principles. None.” She added: “It’s the phoniness and this cruelty. Donald is cruel.” “You can’t trust him,” she said.
In 2020, Mary Trump filed a lawsuit accusing the president and his siblings of cheating her out of her inheritance. She claimed that, for the Trumps, “fraud was not just the family business — it was a way of life.”
The White House responded that Ms. Trump’s allegations were self-serving.
Mr. Trump, 77, who is the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination even as he faces dozens of criminal charges in four cases, has had a number of personal losses in the last several years.
His younger brother, Robert, died in 2020, and the president held a funeral service for him at the White House. His first wife, Ivana Trump, died last year. Another brother, Fred Jr., died in 1981 at 43. Judge Barry was the eldest of the Trump siblings.
Maryanne Elizabeth Trump, a granddaughter of German immigrants, was born on April 5, 1937, in New York City to Fred and Mary (McLeod) Trump. Her father, the real estate mogul and the wellspring of the family’s wealth, developed thousands of apartments in Brooklyn and Queens. Her mother was a Scottish immigrant.
The family lived in the Jamaica Estates section of Queens. Judge Barry once recalled: “The first time I realized my father was successful was when I was 15 and a friend said to me, ‘Your father is rich.’ We were privileged but I didn’t know it.”
She attended the private Kew-Forest School in Queens and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts in 1958. She earned a master’s in public law and government from Columbia University in 1962.
After 13 years as a homemaker, she enrolled in law school at Hofstra University, on Long Island, where she was editor of its law review. She graduated in 1974 and went to work for the government, becoming an assistant federal prosecutor in New Jersey. She was first assistant United States Attorney from 1981 to 1983, placing her, at the time, among the highest-ranking women in the office of a federal prosecutor.
Her marriage to David Desmond in 1960 ended in divorce in 1980. She married Mr. Barry in 1982. He died in 2000.
In addition to her brother, her immediate survivors include a younger sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, and a son from her first marriage, David William Desmond.
She was regarded as a tough judge. Judge Barry rejected a plea bargain that would have freed two detectives accused of protecting a drug dealer; they were tried and convicted. She ruled in favor of a Gambian refugee and castigated the magistrate who had questioned his application for asylum. The magistrate was later removed.
In 2000, Judge Barry wrote the majority opinion in an appeals court decision striking down a New Jersey ban on late-term abortions, saying it was vaguely worded and placed an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to privacy in medical decision making.
As tough as she was on the bench, Judge Barry suggested that women lighten up just a bit on the issue of sexual harassment.
“I stand second to none in condemning sexual harassment of women,” she told the Interagency Committee on Women in Law Enforcement in 1992. “But what is happening is that every sexy joke of long ago, every flirtation, is being recalled by some women and revised and re-evaluated as sexual harassment. Many of these accusations are, in anybody’s book, frivolous.”
In 2004, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the Supreme Court presented Judge Barry with an award given by the Seton Hall University School of Law to women who excel in law and public service.
In accepting the award, which was named in honor of Justice O’Connor, Judge Barry said: “I say to the women out there, remember how difficult it was for women like Justice O’Connor starting out. Even though she graduated with top grades, she had to take a job as a legal secretary. Remember how far we have come.”