A New York judge presiding over Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against President Donald Trump could be questioned about his own past actions and face an ethics complaint.
As a result of three donations made to Democrats in 2020, a number of legal experts and former prosecutors assert that Judge Juan Merchan violated New York’s Code of Judicial Conduct, according to Breitbart News, which could result in an ethics investigation and potentially a mistrial if he continues to serve on the case.
As stated in Section 100.5 of the New York Code of Judicial Conduct, judges can’t “directly or indirectly engage in any political activity.” In particular, judges are prohibited from: “(h) soliciting funds for, paying an assessment to, or making a contribution to a political organization or candidate.”
This is clearly stated in the yearly handbook of the New York State Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics: “A sitting judge may not make political contributions at any time, even to a U.S. presidential candidate or to a federal congressional candidate outside of New York State (Opinion 11-146; 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][h]).”
Also, in accordance with the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge may not, unless allowed by law, “solicit funds for, pay an assessment to, or make a contribution to a political organization or a candidate for public office.”
“However, Merchan — a New York state judge — made three political donations in 2020, according to public Federal Election Commission records,” Breitbart reported.
A search of the Federal Election Commission records reveals that Merchan contributed $15.00, through ActBlue, to Biden for President, Trump’s opponent, on July 26, 2020.
He then made a donation of $10.00 to the Progressive Turnout Project, an organization dedicated to encouraging Democratic voters to participate in the election.
“Additionally, he donated $10.00 to Stop Republicans, which is part of the Progressive Turnout Project that aims to resist the Republican Party and Donald Trump’s “radical right-wing legacy,” also through ActBlue,” according to Conservative Brief.
— Sebastian Gorka DrG (@SebGorka) April 7, 2023
— New York Post (@nypost) April 7, 2023
Several prosecutors and other legal figures are pointing out how problematic this is.
“While the amounts here are minimal, it’s surprising that a sitting judge would make political donations of any size to a partisan candidate or cause,” said Elie Honig, a senior CNN legal analyst, and former federal prosecutor.
Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics professor at New York University, said that regardless of the amount, such donations are not permitted under New York’s own rules.
“The contribution to Biden and possibly the one to ‘Stop Republicans’ would be forbidden unless there is some other explanation that would allow them, he said.
Gillers stated that any violations of the N.Y. Code of Judicial Conduct would be investigated by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct and could lead to removal.
“Violations can lead to a warning, private discipline, public discipline, and more serious sanctions like removal. Serious discipline (e.g. removal) is decided by the N.Y. Court of Appeals,” he said.
Founder of a conservative judicial activism group and former GOP chief counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mike Davis, asserted that: “He donated to Joe Biden’s campaign. He should get off this case. And this judge has a history, with President Trump, in prior cases. He finds out that this judge actually donated to Biden’s campaign. So, that at least raises the appearance of impartiality – the appearance that this judge could not be impartial against President Trump.”
The political donations were deemed an “unforced error” by Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a CNN legal analyst.
“Judge Merchan has a reputation of being a fair down-the-middle judge, however, donating to a defendant’s political rival can cause the appearance of a conflict, even where there is none, and creates an unforced error, in this case, involving Trump,” she explained.
“Former Southern California U.S. Attorney Carol Lam warned those donations could harm the public’s perception of the trial and question Merchan’s alleged impartiality,” CB further reported.
“I think the optics are a bit problematic,” while going on to note that political donations from judges are an ethical conundrum. “To be clear, the donations were made in 2020, before Judge Merchan had either the Trump organization case assigned to him or, obviously, this case, but it is troubling optics, I think, for any judge to have made a political contribution, and then to have a party who is either the beneficiary or not the beneficiary of that political contribution before that judge in court,” she added.
Merchan and his family have been accused by Trump himself as “well-known Trump haters,” noting that he has worked on previous cases involving him.
Trump posted on his social media platform, Truth Social:
“VERY UNFAIR VENUE, WITH SOME AREAS THAT VOTED 1% REPUBLICAN. THIS CASE SHOULD VE MOCED [sic] TO NEARBY STATEN ISLAND – WOULD BE A VERY FAIR AND SECURE LOCATION FOR THE TRIAL. ADDITIONALLY, THE HIGHLY PARTISAN JUDGE & HIS FAMILY ARE WELL KNOWN TRUMP HATERS. HE WAS AN UNFAIR DISASTER ON A PREVIOUS TRUMP RELATED CASE, WOULDN’T RECUSE, GAVE HORRIBLE JURY INSTRUCTIONS, & IMPOSSIBLE TO DEAL WITH DURING THE WITCH TRIAL HUNT. HIS DAUGHTER WORKED FOR “KAMALA” & NOW THE BIDEN-HARRIS CAMPAIGN. KANGAROO COURT!!!”