On Thursday, June 20, 2024, The New York Times reported that two veteran federal judges in Florida’s Southern District had urged Judge Aileen M. Cannon to step aside from presiding over the classified documents case involving former President Donald Trump.

According to unnamed sources familiar with the private conversations, Chief District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga and another more experienced judge separately asked Judge Cannon to consider passing the high-profile case to another jurist shortly after she was assigned to it in June 2023.

However, Judge Cannon refused their suggestions to recuse herself from overseeing the criminal investigation into Trump’s retention of classified materials after leaving the White House. Her decision to keep the case drew scrutiny given her relative lack of trial experience compared to other judges in the Southern District. Judge Cannon had also previously intervened in the documents probe in a manner seen as favoring Trump, though an appeals court later sharply rebuked and reversed her controversial ruling.

The New York Times report provided new context regarding the mounting criticism of Judge Cannon’s handling of pretrial matters in the classified documents case. Through anonymous sources, the article described how Judge Altonaga emphasized it would create poor optics for Judge Cannon to preside over Trump’s upcoming trial. This was in part due to Judge Cannon’s unusual pre-indictment actions, such as barring investigators from reviewing the seized documents and appointing a special master despite no legal basis.

The appellate judges who overturned Judge Cannon’s ruling pointedly stated that the judicial system must apply equally to everyone, regardless of status or rank. However, when the case was randomly reassigned after Trump’s indictment, it ended up back before Judge Cannon. Observers now argue she may be too inexperienced or partial toward the former president to fairly oversee the upcoming proceedings.

Meanwhile, Judge Cannon has stalled the trial’s progress by not setting a firm start date, deferring many pretrial motions instead of delegating them to the more seasoned Judge Bruce E. Reinhart. She has also indefinitely postponed the trial that prosecutors said they could begin this summer. Trump’s legal team has encouraged further delays, virtually guaranteeing the case may not reach resolution ahead of the 2024 elections.

If Trump were to win the presidency again, he could potentially order the Justice Department to drop the charges. Judge Cannon’s handling has led critics to speculate she may be overwhelmed by the complex case or biased in Trump’s favor. However, both judges who spoke to Judge Cannon and the district court clerk declined to comment on the matter, stating judges do not publicly weigh in on active cases.

While routine for new judges to consult with more experienced colleagues, Judge Cannon has the final say. By keeping the high-profile case and continuing to exhibit behavior favoring delay tactics, her impartiality and ability to fairly oversee the matter remain a central issue as criticism of her oversight intensifies.

The latest report shedding light on the unusual behind-the-scenes efforts to have her recuse herself early in the proceedings provides further fuel for objections regarding her crucial role in the unfolding legal drama involving the former president.

 

 

Source: The New York Times