Donald Trump's hush-money trial judge receives ethics caution for donating to Biden campaign - Hindustan Times
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Donald Trump's hush-money trial judge receives ethics caution for donating to Biden campaign

May 18, 2024 08:26 AM IST

A state ethics panel dismissed a complaint against Judge Juan M. Merchan over minor political donations, amidst his role in Donald Trump’s criminal trial.

Last summer, a state ethics panel quite unceremoniously chucked a complaint made against Juan M. Merchan of New York, who is currently overseeing former President Donald Trump's hush money trial.

Judge Juan M. Merchan poses in his chambers in New York, March 14, 2024. On Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)(AP)
Judge Juan M. Merchan poses in his chambers in New York, March 14, 2024. On Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)(AP)

The specific claim was associated with the small-dollar contributions (Judge Merchan) that went to entities steeped in Democrats’ political campaigns, including President Joe Biden’s campaign.

The total amount donated by Judge Merchan in 2020 was $35, which included a $15 contribution specifically earmarked for the Biden campaign and a $10 donation to a group called “Stop Republicans.”

Under state judicial ethics rules, judges are prohibited from making political contributions of any kind. Still, Judge Merchan made these donations, which led to the complaint being filed against him.

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Trump Trial Judge cleared of ethics complaint

“Justice Merchan said the complaint, from more than a year ago, was dismissed in July with a caution,” stated Al Baker, a spokesman for the court system.

The commission did not release the letter outlining the caution due to its confidentiality rules, and Justice Merchan chose not to make the letter public.

“The Commission on Judicial Conduct is governed by a confidentiality statute and cannot comment on nonpublic dispositions,” explained Robert Tembeckjian, the commission’s administrator.

NY judges often break political donations rules

The 2024 annual report of the commission showed that several New York judges broke the rule prohibiting political contributions from court employees in the last couple of years. Frequently cited infringements were punished with minimal, and judges seemed to think that the limitation of rules was meant for official organisations' administration only. As a matter of fact, judges are forbidden by law to make donations to political campaigns, which include contributions for candidacy to federal offices.

The commission noted, “Like so much of the misconduct the Commission encounters, making a prohibited political contribution is a self-inflicted mistake.”

Trump’s legal team also scrutinized Justice Merchan’s adult daughter for her work at a Democratic consulting firm.

Despite several claims, Justice Merchan declined to recuse himself, and appeals court judges did not intervene. The trial is now nearing its conclusion.

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The case against Trump centres on a $130,000 hush-money payment made to pornstar Stormy Daniels during the last days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels claims to have had a sexual encounter with the former president, and the payment, made by Trump’s “fixer” Michael Cohen, was intended to buy her silence.

Now, the 45th US president is accused of falsifying business records to cover up his reimbursement of Cohen, misrepresenting them as routine legal expenses.

Trump has consistently denied the accusations and has lashed out at both Justice Merchan and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, who brought the case, saying that both are Democrats and they are colluding.

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