Merchan Assigned to Trump Trial on Purpose


Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., has submitted an official misconduct complaint to the New York State Unified Court System regarding the allegedly “random” selection of Juan Merchan as the judge over the ongoing case against former President Donald Trump in Manhattan, she announced Tuesday evening.

Her complaint comes toward the end of a criminal trial in which Trump has faced 34 felony charges stemming from accusations that he instructed his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to pay “hush money” to pornographer Stormy Daniels to conceal an alleged past affair. Trump is accused of falsifying financial records by failing to label these payments as campaign expenses, an absurd allegation given that labeling such payments as campaign expenses would have been illegal.

Stefanik’s complaint pertains to Merchan’s assignment to three separate criminal cases related to Trump, including his ongoing criminal trial, the previous trial against the Trump Organization, and the upcoming trial against Trump ally Steve Bannon. The New York State Unified Court System’s rules state that criminal cases are assigned to judges randomly, but Stefanik doubts this rule was followed in Democrats’ lawfare crusade, which has proved to be their top 2024 campaign strategy.

“If justices were indeed being randomly assigned in the Criminal Term, the probability of two specific criminal cases being assigned to the same justice is quite low, and the probability of three specific criminal cases being assigned to the same justice is infinitesimally small. And yet, we see Acting Justice Merchan on all three cases,” Stefanik wrote in her misconduct complaint addressed to the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct and Inspector General Kay-Ann Porter Campbell.

“One cannot help but suspect that the ‘random selection’ at work in the assignment of Acting Justice Merchan, a Democrat Party donor, to these cases involving prominent Republicans, is in fact not random at all,” the congresswoman added.

She said the reason for Merchan’s assignment to all the cases is “simple”: to secure the convictions of Trump and his allies.

This is the second complaint Stefanik filed this month, following her demand that Merchan recuse himself over glaring conflicts of interest. In addition to Merchan himself having donated to Biden, his daughter is a Democrat operative whose clients previously used the Trump indictment to fundraise for Democrat candidates.

What’s the rule?

The uniform rules that govern the trial courts in New York lay out a clear procedure for how judges should be assigned to criminal trials like the lawfare case against Trump. 

Section 200.11, which covers how criminal cases are assigned to judges, states the following:

Assignment of actions to individual assignment judges. Except as provided in subdivision (b) of this section, upon commencement of a criminal action in the superior court, the action shall be assigned to a judge by the clerk of the court in which it is pending pursuant to a method of random selection authorized by the Chief Administrator. The judge thereby assigned shall be known as the “assigned judge” with respect to such action and, except as otherwise provided in subdivision (d) of this section, shall conduct all further proceedings therein.

In other words, a court clerk uses a preapproved system to randomly assign criminal cases to individual judges. At least, that’s the rule. But Stefanik, along with many other Republicans, suspect Merchan’s assignment was not so “random” after all. 

According to the judicial personnel roster provided by the New York State Unified Court System, there are currently 28 judges serving on the New York County criminal term, one of which is Merchan. So as Stefanik pointed out, those odds are “infinitesimally small.”

If Not Random, Then What?

The uniform rules governing New York trial courts provide insight into the circumstances that would bypass the random assignment system. They read as follows:


(1) Where the requirements of matters already assigned to a judge are such as to limit the ability of that judge to handle additional cases, the Chief Administrator may authorize that new assignments to that judge be suspended until the judge is able to handle additional cases.

(2) The Chief Administrator may authorize the assignment of one or more special reserve trial judges. Such judges may be assigned matters for trial in exceptional circumstances where the needs of the courts require such assignment.

(3) Matters requiring immediate disposition may be assigned to a judge designated to hear such matters when the assigned judge is not available.

(4) The Chief Administrator may authorize the transfer of any action and any matter relating to an action from one judge to another in accordance with the needs of the court.

So here are the possibilities: If a judge is too busy with other cases, he or she can temporarily stop getting new ones. Special judges can be brought in for trials in unusual situations where needed. Urgent matters can be given to a different judge if the assigned judge isn’t available. Cases can be moved from one judge to another to meet the court’s needs. 

None of these rules fit the circumstances of the Trump trial, but New York State Office of Court Administration spokesman Al Baker refused to acknowledge this fact and released a statement claiming the Trump case was merely a routine assignment.

“As we’ve said repeatedly, including in April 2023, Judge Merchan was assigned to supervise the special grand juries that investigated the Trump Organization and Allen Weisselberg as well as Donald Trump,” Baker said. “He was, in turn, assigned the indictments that arose from those investigations, which is common practice since the judge supervising the grand jury investigation already has some familiarity with these often-complex cases and can manage them more efficiently.”

Stefanik isn’t buying it.

As she wrote in her complaint: “The simple answer to why Acting Justice Merchan has been assigned to these cases would seem to be that whoever made the assignment intentionally selected Acting Justice Merchan to handle them to increase the chance that Donald Trump, the Trump Organization, and Steven Bannon would ultimately be convicted.”

Monroe Harless
Monroe Harless
Intern. Monroe is a recent graduate of the University of Georgia with degrees in journalism and political science.

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