DA, ethics panel back judge in Donald Trump hush-money case, finding no evidence of bias

Former President Donald Trump sits at the defense table with his legal team in a Manhattan court on April 4 in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool)

NEW YORK — Donald Trump’s tempestuous views aside, Manhattan prosecutors say neither the former president nor his lawyers have shown any evidence to support their claims that the judge in his hush-money criminal case has an anti-Trump bias. They urged him to reject defense demands that he step aside from the case.

In court papers made public Tuesday, the Manhattan district attorney’s office defended Judge Juan Manuel Merchan against Trump’s claims that he’s a “Trump-hating judge,” amplifying a court ethics panel’s recent opinion that a judge in his situation wouldn’t have to recuse himself.


The opinion, issued May 4 by the state’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics, suggests Merchan may have sought the panel’s input as he wrestled with the gravity of his role in the case and nagging concerns that he could be seen as having a bias or conflict of interest. The opinion doesn’t list names, but the details match, with “the inquiring judge” described as presiding in a criminal case involving “a former public official.”

Trump’s lawyers contend Merchan, a state court judge in Manhattan, is biased because his daughter is a political consultant whose firm has worked for some of Trump’s Democratic rivals, and that some of his rulings in two prior Trump-related cases have shown a pro-prosecution bent.

The Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics, in its opinion, concluded that a judge in that precise situation “may continue to preside in the matter provided the judge believes he/she can be fair and impartial.”

Matthew Colangelo, a senior counsel to District Attorney Alvin Bragg, agreed that neither issue was grounds for Merchan to step aside. He painted Trump’s recusal motion as the latest in his “prolific history of baselessly accusing state and federal judges around the country of bias.”

The decision on recusal is up to Merchan himself. He previously rejected a similar request when Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, was on trial.

Separately, Trump’s lawyers are seeking to move the case to federal court, which would also eliminate Merchan from the judicial equation. A federal judge has scheduled a June 27 hearing on that request.

A message seeking comment was left with Merchan. Court spokesperson Lucian Chalfen said: “As this case remains a pending matter before Judge Merchan, we have no further comment.”

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