Trump judge documents case in spotlight as arguments approach

MIAMI (AP) — A month after former President Donald Trump was charged with mishandling classified documents, the judge presiding over the case is expected to take on a more visible role as she weighs competing claims on a trial and hear arguments this week on a procedural, but potentially crucial, area of ​​the law.

A pre-trial conference on Tuesday to discuss procedures for handling classified information will represent the first courtroom arguments in the case before U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon since Trump was indicted five weeks ago. The arguments could provide insight into how Cannon intends to preside over the case as she also faces the unresolved question of how to plan Trump’s trial as he campaigns for president.

These issues would be closely watched in any trial involving a former president. But Cannon could face further scrutiny in light of a highly dissected ruling she issued last year that granted the Trump team a special master’s request to conduct an independent review. reams of classified documents removed by the FBI from its Mar-a-Lago estate. A three-judge federal appeals panel overturned her order, reprimanding Cannon for a decision she did not have legal authority to make in the first place.

Cannon’s decision, in a lawsuit Trump filed against the Justice Department, drew criticism from legal experts who saw her as too preferential over the former president. It also drew public attention to her limited experience as a judge, particularly on highly sensitive national security issues, given that she was appointed to the bench just three years ago by Trump.

Still, some Florida lawyers say there’s no question, as the judge now handling Trump’s criminal case, that she’s aware of the stakes in the most politically explosive federal prosecution in recent memory.

“She won’t want to do anything but follow the book. The challenge is there’s never been a book like this,” said Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney in Miami who served on the committee. advisory committee that considered Cannon’s legal claim. He said he was impressed with her credentials and was confident she would be able to follow up the case fairly.

“I think she’s going to want to be much appreciated for her judicial leadership of this case,” Coffey said.

Jeffrey Garland, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Pierce, Fla. – where Cannon’s courtroom is located – praised Cannon for her handling of a trial he had before her last year during of which he represented a “pretty difficult” defendant who had been accused of throwing a pulpit at a federal prosecutor.

“She was able to maintain the dignity of the court and the calm of the courtroom, and she was able to express her control in a way that was non-threatening,” Garland said, adding that he assumed Cannon would be able to do the same in the Trump case. “I think she understands that’s what a federal judge has to do in a case like this. This is true in all cases, but especially in this case.

Cannon — a Duke University graduate and the daughter of a Colombian-Cuban immigrant — clerked for a U.S. Circuit Court judge and worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida, prosecuting dozens of cases in the part of her office’s major crimes division and later handling conviction and sentence appeals, before being appointed by Trump in 2020. She was also a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization.

Her ruling in the Trump lawsuit last September catapulted her into the spotlight as it effectively halted key aspects of the Justice Department’s investigation into the hoarding of classified documents. In overturning the order, the appeals court said its continuation would have allowed for a “radical reorganization of our jurisprudence limiting the involvement of federal courts in criminal investigations.”

As a judge assigned to Trump’s criminal prosecutions, she will be empowered to make rulings that could shape the trajectory of the case, including on what evidence can and cannot be admitted and whether to proceed quickly with the case. lawsuit or to grant the request of the Trump team. for a delay.

Cannon has had few substantive issues to decide in the month since Trump was indicted, though she has set a tentative August trial date — a formality under the Speedy Trial Act — in Fort Pierce. and denied a Justice Department request to file under seal a list of witnesses with whom prosecutors want to bar Trump from discussing the case.

But major challenges await us.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys disagree on the trial date, a matter with significant legal and policy implications. The Justice Department has proposed a Dec. 11 trial, while defense attorneys have suggested it should be postponed until after the 2024 presidential election, citing challenges in setting a date while Trump pursues the Republican nomination and legal issues they say are “extraordinary” and complex.

It is not known when this issue will be resolved.

Tuesday’s status conference centers on the Classified Information Procedures Act, a 1980 law that governs how classified information is handled in a criminal prosecution and will likely provide a essential route in this case. The law aims to balance a defendant’s right to access evidence that prosecutors intend to use at trial with the government’s desire to protect sensitive and classified information.

Richard Serafini, a Florida criminal defense attorney and former top Justice Department official, said he doesn’t necessarily believe Cannon’s lack of experience in this area would be detrimental given the case law and precedents. past to which she and the lawyers can turn for consultation.

“These things are not new. These aren’t everyday occurrences, but it’s not like, ‘Oh, my God, there’s no precedent on any of these things,’ he said.

Whatever happens, Coffey said, “the eyes of the world are on her. She’s writing a chapter in history.”


Tucker reported from Washington.

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