FT. PIERCE, Florida. A month after former President Donald Trump was indicted for mishandling classified documents, the judge presiding over the case is set to take on a more prominent role as she weighs competing requests on court day and hears arguments this week. at the meeting. procedural but potentially decisive area of law.
Tuesday’s pretrial conference to discuss procedures for handling classified information will be the first argument in the courtroom in the case of U.S. District Judge Eileen Cannon since Trump was indicted five weeks ago. The arguments may provide insight into how Cannon intends to handle the case, while she also faces the unresolved issue of how to schedule Trump’s trial during his presidential campaign.
These issues will be closely monitored in any trial involving the former president. But Cannon may face additional scrutiny in light of a detailed ruling she issued last year that granted the Trump team’s request for a dedicated craftsman to independently review the many classified records the FBI has removed from its Mar-a-Lago. property. A three-judge federal appeals panel overturned her ruling, chiding Cannon for a decision that she said she did not initially have legal authority to.
Cannon’s decision in Trump’s lawsuit against the Justice Department drew criticism from lawyers who saw her as overly favored over the former president. It also drew public attention to her limited experience as a judge, especially in extremely sensitive national security matters, given that she was appointed to the position by Trump just three years ago.
However, some Florida lawyers say there is no doubt that the judge now tasked with handling Trump’s criminal case is mindful of the stakes of the most politically explosive federal prosecution in recent memory.
“She’s not going to do anything other than follow the rules. The problem is, there has never been such a book,” said Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney in Miami who served on the advisory committee that reviewed Cannon’s lawsuit. He said he was impressed with her credentials and was confident that she would be able to give the case a fair hearing.
“I think she will want to be respected for her judicial leadership of this case,” Coffey said.
Jeffrey Garland, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Pierce, Florida, where Cannon’s courtroom is located, praised Cannon for how she handled the trial he had before her last year in which he represented a “rather difficult” defendant. who was charged with the throw. seat of the federal prosecutor.
“She was able to maintain the dignity of the court and her composure in the courtroom, and she was able to exercise control in ways that were not threatening,” Garland said, adding that he thought Cannon would be able to do the same in the Trump case. “I think she understands what a federal judge has to do in a case like this. This is true in any case, but especially in this case.”
Cannon, a Duke University graduate and Colombian-born daughter of a Cuban immigrant, worked as a U.S. District Court clerk and served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Florida, investigating dozens of cases within her office’s Major Crime Unit and then handling appeals of convictions and sentences before Trump nominated her in 2020. She was also a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization.
Her ruling in the Trump lawsuit last September brought her into the spotlight as it effectively halted key aspects of the Justice Department’s investigation into the possession of classified documents. In overturning the order, the appellate court said that if it had remained in place, it would have allowed “a radical change in the order of our case law that limits the involvement of federal courts in criminal investigations.”
As the judge appointed to prosecute Trump, she will be empowered to make rulings that could determine the trajectory of the case, including what evidence can and cannot be admitted and whether to go quickly to trial or grant the Trump team’s request. for the delay.
In the month since Trump’s indictment, Cannon had several substantive issues to resolve, although she set a provisional trial date for August — a formality under the Expedited Trial Act — at Fort Pierce and denied the Justice Department’s request for closing the case. a list of witnesses with whom the prosecutor’s office wants to ban Trump from discussing the case.
But the main problems are ahead.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers disagree over the date of the trial, with serious legal and political implications. The Justice Department has proposed a December 11 trial, while defense attorneys have offered to delay it until the 2024 presidential election, citing date-setting issues while Trump is busy with the Republican nomination, as well as legal issues they say , “are “unresolved”. extraordinary” and complex.
When this issue will be resolved is not clear.
Tuesday’s status conference focuses on the Classified Information Procedures Act, a 1980 law that governs the handling of classified information in criminal prosecutions and is likely to serve as an important roadmap in this case. The law is designed to balance the defendant’s right to access evidence that prosecutors intend to use in court with the government’s desire to protect sensitive classified information.
Richard Serafini, a Florida criminal defense attorney and former senior Justice Department official, said he doesn’t necessarily think Cannon’s lack of experience in the field would be detrimental given the case law and past precedent she and lawyers can turn to for consultation.
“These things are not new. It’s not an everyday occurrence, but it’s not like, “Oh my God, there’s no precedent in any of these things,” he said.
Whatever happens, Coffey said, “The eyes of the world are on her. She is writing a chapter in history.”