Stefanik Files Misconduct Complaint Against Trump Hush Money Judge

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to the Trump "hush money" trial currently drawing to a close in Manhattan has seen what a disaster Justice Juan Merchan has turned out to be. He has openly sided with the prosecution at almost every turn while summarily dismissing nearly all of the objections raised by the defense. He has barred critical defense witnesses from testifying and threatened or admonished the few who were allowed to take the stand. His gag order against Trump was unconstitutional and he allowed the prosecution to violate Trump's Sixth Amendment rights by not specifying the crime or crimes he was being charged with until the very end of the proceeding. Now, New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R) has filed a misconduct complaint against Merchan, but not for any of the reasons I just listed. She is questioning whether the judge was chosen randomly for this trial as required by law or if the Trump-hating Democrat judge was able to force his way into the role. (NY Post)

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Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) filed a misconduct complaint Tuesday against the judge overseeing Donald Trump’s Manhattan hush money trial, alleging that his selection to handle the former president’s case — and others involving his allies — is “not random at all.”

The House Republican Conference chairwoman’s complaint with the inspector general of the New York State Unified Court System called for an investigation into Justice Juan Merchan “to determine whether the required random selection process was in fact followed.”

“The potential misconduct pertains to the repeated assignment of Acting Justice Juan Merchan, a Democrat Party donor, to criminal cases related to President Donald J. Trump and his allies,” Stefanik wrote.

Stefanik is raising an excellent point that legal analysts have been questioning for months. Merchan is not only running this trial, but he handled the criminal case dealing with Trump's financial holdings in New York City. He has also been selected to oversee the upcoming trial of Steve Bannon, a prominent Trump adviser and advocate. There are more than two dozen sitting justices available for these tasks and the law requires that they be selected randomly. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I checked in with ChatGPT (a math whiz), and the odds of one judge out of a pool of 25 being randomly selected that many times in such a short period are 1 in 15,625 (\[ \left(\frac{1}{25}\right) \times \left(\frac{1}{25}\right) \times \left(\frac{1}{25}\right) = \frac{1}). New York is really straining the laws of probability here.

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Stefanik made the same argument in her complaint. She described the odds of the same judge being assigned to two consecutive cases as being "quite low" and the odds of it happening three times as "infinitesimally small." However, to understand this more fully, we need to peer into the murky world of specifically how judges are assigned to cases in New York. They types of cases handled in the state's courts are broken down into 13 categories or "principle parts" ranging from Tax Certiorari to medical malpractice. Each judge is tasked with handling one or more types of cases based on their background and experience, decided by an Administrative Justice. When a case arises and a "Request for Judicial Intervention" is filed, it is assigned one of those 13 categories and all of the judges who handle those cases are placed in a pool. The final assignment is allegedly made by a computer using random number generation. But those are the state rules. There is a different procedure for "City cases." After a "note of issue" is filed for a case, a judge is supposedly assigned from the pool to oversee the case "in calendar number order." Yet even under that procedure, it would seem as if the chances of all three Trump-related cases winding up in the same judge's hands would be incredibly low.

In any event, the question of whether or not there was any hanky panky going on now rests in the lap of the inspector general of the New York State Unified Court System. That would be Kay-Ann Porter Campbell, a 1993 graduate of Albany Law School, who has been a fixture in the Democrat-controlled system for years. I won't immediately cast any aspersions as to how thorough her "investigation" into this matter will be, but we should probably approach the question with some cautious skepticism. 

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The bigger question is what, if anything, happens to Judge Merchan when this is all over? His conduct during this trial has been atrocious and he should have recused himself immediately even if he was truly selected randomly. If this case ends in an acquittal or a hung jury, I'm sure he will be heartbroken, but he will likely walk away unscathed. But if the jury somehow stunningly returns a guilty verdict, the case will be headed for a review on appeal, where it should eventually be overturned if there is any justice left in the world. That will be after the election (which is what the Democrats are praying for), but Merchan would also then be up for review to determine if there was any wrongdoing on the judge's part leading to the faulty verdict. Either way, all of that will take place after Donald Trump is either on his way back to the White House or to Florida to start his retirement.

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John Stossel 1:00 PM | June 15, 2024
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