Meet Juan Merchan, the Manhattan judge scheduled to oversee Donald Trump's criminal case
The judge overseeing Donald Trump's criminal case is Juan Merchan.
He previously presided over the financial fraud case against the Trump Org. and Allen Weisselberg.
Merchan is separately presiding over a criminal case against Steve Bannon.
Following his indictment this week, Donald Trump is poised to face an old nemesis in court: Judge Juan Manuel Merchan.
Merchan is overseeing the Manhattan district attorney's criminal case against the ex-president. He was spotted going into a Manhattan courthouse on Thursday evening, likely to review the indictment voted on by a grand jury hours earlier. That same day, he issued an order allowing prosecutors to disclose the existence of the indictment, which is normally a closely-held secret. On Friday, court security put extra restrictions near his chambers.
Trump and Merchan have a history. The judge oversaw last fall's criminal trial against the Trump Organization. The company's CFO, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty to financial crime charges and testified in the case. A jury convicted Trump's company of numerous financial fraud charges.
Trump isn't fond of the judge.
In a Truth Social post on Friday, he claimed without evidence that Merchan "strong armed" Weisselberg and that he was selected by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
"The Judge 'assigned' to my Witch Hunt Case, a 'Case' that has NEVER BEEN CHARGED BEFORE, HATES ME," Trump said. "His name is Juan Manuel Marchan, was hand picked by Bragg & the Prosecutors, & is the same person who 'railroaded' my 75 year old former CFO, Allen Weisselberg, to take a 'plea' deal."
Merchan, like many judges, was reserved throughout the Trump Organization trial, although he occasionally scolded the company's lawyers. But after the jury returned its verdict, he made his views clear. In sentencing hearings for Weisselberg, he said the executive was "driven entirely by greed" and that he resented having to abide by an agreement to sentence him to only five months in jail.
"Had I not made the promise, I would not be imposing the five-month sentence," Merchan said at the time. "I would be imposing a sentence much greater than that."
Trump is scheduled to appear before Merchan in Manhattan court on Tuesday afternoon.
Merchan oversaw a separate secret trial against the Trump Organization
As the Manhattan district attorney's office spent years investigating Trump's finances, it issued numerous subpoenas that required the Trump Organization to hand over documents.
The company, however, wasn't happy to turn over its internal records. In the summer of 2021, Merchan issued orders compelling the Trump Organization to comply with four different grand jury subpoenas issued by a grand jury. When it continued to refuse, Merchan held a bench trial — without a jury — on October 7, 2021, over whether to hold the company in contempt of court.
The Trump Organization lost the case. In a ruling dated December 7, 2021, Merchan said the company broke the law, and that excuses about issues related to "email migration" didn't hold any water.
"Examining the record as a whole, there, can be no doubt that [the Trump Organization's] failures amount to willful disobedience," Merchan wrote. "Despite clear warnings, the Company missed deadline after deadline, never moving to quash subpoenas and never seeking Court intervention. Some subpoenas went largely ignored and another was ignored entirely."
The ruling was kept secret and made public only in December 2022, after the jury trial against Trump's company over financial crimes.
In addition to Trump's legal troubles, Merchan is also presiding over a case against Trump ally Steve Bannon.
Bragg's office is accusing Bannon of participating in a plot to steal money designated for a nonprofit that was supposed to build a US-Mexico border wall. In a January hearing, Merchan flashed irritation as Bannon's lawyers squabbled over their differences with the former White House advisor and refused to push back court deadlines.
"The law gives the court great discretion to move a case along in the public interest," Merchan said in the hearing, refusing to upend his schedule.
Bannon has denied wrongdoing in the case.
The judge has experience with tabloid-friendly cases
Merchan was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, after his family moved to the United States when he was six years old, according to The New York Times.
He worked odd jobs from childhood through college: as a night dishwasher, carrying groceries, delivering meat, and as a hotel night manager, the Times reported.
Merchan completed an undergraduate business degree at Baruch College, according to his LinkedIn. According to the Times, he dropped out for a period of time to work as an internal auditor at a real estate firm. In 1994, he graduated with a law degree from Hofstra University.
He then spent the next five years working for the Manhattan district attorney's office, overseen by Robert Morgenthau. After that, Merchan had a seven-year stint at the New York attorney general's office overseeing cases on Long Island.
In 2006, Merchan took a role as a family court judge in the Bronx. In 2009, he was appointed as a trial judge in Manhattan, where he's been since.
Officially, Merchan is known as an acting justice of the New York Supreme Court. But New York, in its eternal wisdom, uses a naming scheme that's totally different from the federal system.
While the US Supreme Court is the highest-level federal court, the New York Supreme Court is where trials happen, making it the lowest level in the state. Appeals are heard in the Appellate Division. The top court in the state — the equivalent of the US Supreme Court — is known as the New York Court of Appeals.
Trump's criminal case is expected to combine both dry financial details and tabloid luridness. The Manhattan grand jury that voted to indict him had examined details related to hush-money payments made to Stormy Daniels, a porn star who says she had an affair with Trump.
Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer, paid Daniels $130,000 ahead of the 2016 election. He says it was part of a plot, at Trump's direction, to keep Daniels quiet about the affair.
Trump has denied wrongdoing, attacked prosecutors as politically motivated, and says he never had an affair with Daniels.
In his years on the bench, Merchan has overseen a number of tabloid-friendly cases. He presided over a 2013 case where two men parachuted from Freedom Tower (he said they "sullied the memories" of people who died in the 9/11 attacks, according to Bloomberg News). In another case, he refused to allow a "witch doctor" to testify about whether a man accused of murder was under the influence of dark spirits.
Merchan's highest-profile non-Trump case was a trial for Anna Gristina, the "Soccer mom madam" convicted of running a high-end escort service in Manhattan, who later became the subject of a Lifetime movie.
Gristina is not a fan of Merchan, either. On Friday, she accused Merchan of being biased in favor of prosecutors.
"He'll rule in favor of the prosecutors on everything," she told Insider. "He was a piece of shit."
Laura Italiano contributed reporting.
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