Judge in hush money case loses patience with Trump’s attorneys over myriad pretrial motions


Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at his Mar-a-Lago estate, March 4, 2024, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

A New York City judge handed former President Donald Trump a double whammy loss in two separate orders released Tuesday.

One order deals with a previous ruling aiming to tamp down on the number of pretrial motions that can be filed in the hush money case over alleged book-cooking in relation to the Stormy Daniels sex scandal. Trump’s attorneys wanted that order reversed — and failed.

The second order concerns public access to a would-be trove of documents already filed in the case. Trump’s attorneys pushed to unseal “all pleadings, orders, and substantive written communications that have involved the Court” and failed there as well.

The setbacks mark the second time in two days that legal arguments advanced by the 45th president’s defense attorneys failed to woo New York Supreme Court Justice Juan M. Merchan.

In the motion to vacate order, Merchan uses stark language to remind the defense that court orders should not be ignored.

“This Court emphasizes that it hopes for and fully expects zealous advocacy from counsel as well as spirited contribution from witnesses and parties alike,” the order reads. “Nonetheless, the Court expects that the line between zealous advocacy and willful disregard of its orders will not be crossed.”

At the heart of the issue is Trump’s early March effort to stay his upcoming trial date — which is currently slated for April 15.

On March 7, attorney Todd Blanche filed a motion to adjourn the Empire State’s case against Trump until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on presidential immunity issues arguably implicated by some of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s recent pretrial motions.

On March 8, Merchan decided that he had had enough and issued the order requiring all parties to seek leave from the court, by way of a one-page letter, before filing any additional motions.

The judge is clear about why he issued that order.

“The Court’s measure was indeed intended to assist with the management of its docket as well as to efficiently manage the case at bar,” the order reads. A footnote further explains: “Defendant, either directly or through counsel, has repeatedly stated publicly that the defense goal is to delay these proceedings, if possible, past the 2024 presidential election.”

On the evening of March 8, Trump’s attorneys filed a pre-motion letter with a number of attachments which the judge describes as “a notice of motion, a motion consisting of 51 pages and 214 pages in exhibits.”

The judge was not amused.

“In essence, Defendant disregarded this Court’s Order regarding the filing of motions,” the Tuesday order reads. “In response, this Court circulated an e-mail at 9:17pm reminding the parties of its earlier Order. This Court was well within its authority and demonstrated restraint in doing so.”

Two days later, the defense filed additional documents on the docket — including the since-dispensed with motion to vacate.

Merchan suggests his order was again being ignored.

“In what appears to be an attempt to circumvent this Court’s Order and e-mail of March 8, Defendant this time did not ‘attach’ a notice of motion, motion or exhibits,” the Tuesday order continues. “Instead, the motion and accompanying submissions were appended to the pre-motion letter as ‘exhibits.’”

While noting that he expects “zealous advocacy” and “creative lawyering,” the judge cautions that Trump’s attorneys are on dangerous ground with their filings and, citing precedent, warned: “[A] court of record has power to punish for a criminal contempt, a person guilty of . . . [w]illful disobedience to its lawful mandate.”

In the motion on public proceedings, Merchan tersely reminds the defense that his court already releases public filings, save for redactions to comply with an in-place protective order and New York State law.

And, yet again, the judge uses relatively strong language to make the point when deciding against the defense request.

“To repeat, as far as this Court is aware, the public is not being ‘shielded’ from anything normally maintained in the public court file,” Merchan’s second Tuesday order reads. “In fact, the Unified Court System has taken up the task of posting substantive pleadings, decisions and orders on the nycourts.gov website, a step, as far as this Court is aware, which appears to be unique for a criminal matter in New York State Supreme Court — Criminal Term. Of course, court proceedings in this matter have been open to the press and public alike since its inception.”

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