When Donald Trump walks into Justice Juan Merchan’s courtroom on Tuesday to face criminal charges, it will be a first for a former U.S. president but familiar territory for the veteran judge who serves on Manhattan’s criminal court.
Merchan last year oversaw a criminal trial of the Trump Organization that ended with the real estate company convicted by a jury of tax fraud and hit with fines, while one of its longtime executives, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty and was sent to jail.
Trump is expected to be arraigned before Merchan on Tuesday following a grand jury investigation into hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The grand jury has indicted Trump, though the specific charges have not been publicly disclosed.
Susan Necheles, a Trump attorney, told Reuters the former president will plead not guilty.
Merchan sentenced the Trump Organization to pay $1.6 million after jurors convicted the company in December. The judge also sentenced Weisselberg, who long served as an executive under Trump but was the prosecution’s star witness in the trial, to five months of incarceration.
On Friday, Trump, who was not charged in his company’s case, lashed out at Merchan on his Truth Social platform.
“The Judge ‘assigned’ to my Witch Hunt Case, a ‘Case’ that has NEVER BEEN CHARGED BEFORE, HATES ME,” wrote Trump, who has launched a campaign to regain the presidency in 2024. “He strong-armed Allen, which a judge is not allowed to do, & treated my companies, which didn’t ‘plead,’ VICIOUSLY.”
Merchan did not reply to a request for comment.
The Trump Organization trial is not Merchan’s only recent encounter with people close to the former president. Merchan also is presiding over a criminal case involving former Trump campaign and White House adviser Steve Bannon, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering, conspiracy, and fraud related to a nonprofit that raised funds for building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
Merchan has been a Manhattan criminal court judge since 2009 after prior stints on the state’s Court of Claims, which hears cases against the state and its agencies, and family court in the Bronx.
The judge was born in Colombia and moved to the United States at age 6, growing up in New York City’s borough of Queens, according to news reports. Merchan graduated from Baruch College and Hofstra University School of Law and began his legal career in the same District Attorney’s office that is now prosecuting Trump.
Merchan presided over the 2012 case of the so-called “Soccer Mom Madam” Anna Gristina, which garnered lurid headlines in the New York media. Gristina was accused of running a high-end brothel out of her Manhattan apartment and eventually pleaded guilty. Gristina sued Merchan in 2021 to unseal records in her case as part of an effort to vacate her record. Her case was dismissed, according to court records.
In 2011, Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York recommended that President Barack Obama nominate Merchan for a federal judgeship in Brooklyn, saying he would have been the first Colombian-born federal judge, according to the New York Law Journal. Merchan was not nominated for the post.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters