A Florida district judge assigned to oversee Donald Trump’s classified documents case is attracting criticism ahead of his court appearance in Miami – given that it was Mr Trump himself who elevated her to the bench three years ago.
Unless she chooses to recuse herself, Aileen Cannon, a federal judge with the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, will be placed in charge of the timing and progression of the criminal case as well as rulings on motions brought by the defence and prosecution.
If the former president is then convicted, she would also be tasked with handing down a sentence to the very man who nominated her to that position.
Mr Trump is charged with 37 felony counts related to the mishandling of presidential records, including highly-sensitive national defence information, since his departure from the White House in January 2021.
He has so far insisted that he he is “an innocent man” in angry statements and postings to Truth Social, alleging that he is the victim of “rabid wolves” and the “weaponisation” of the justice system by the “corrupt” Joe Biden administration, even as the indictment revealed photos of boxes of files stacked high in the glitzy ballrooms and bathrooms of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach.
Angela Noble, the court’s chief clerk, has insisted that “normal procedures were followed” in assigning Judge Cannon and magistrate judge Bruce Reinhart to the case after their names appeared on Thursday’s summons.
However, Judge Cannon has already come under fire for delivering rulings widely considered favourable to Mr Trump over the course of the investigation into the classified documents.
After the FBI executed a search warrant in August 2022 to enter Mar-a-Lago and search for classified documents, lawyers for Mr Trump filed a complaint arguing that the search had been illegitimate and unconstitutional.
Judge Cannon subsequently issued an order prohibiting the US government from “further review and use of any of the materials” seized from Mar-a-Lago “for criminal investigative purposes”.
The ruling attracted concern in legal circles as an unprecedented instance of a federal judge assuming the authority to halt a pre-indictment criminal investigation into a suspect. Her ruling was later reversed by the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
Judge Cannon also last year sided with Mr Trump’s request that an independent special master be appointed to review the documents before they could be examined by the Justice Department, a decision that was branded “deeply flawed” by Mr Trump’s own former attorney general Bill Barr.
After appointing special master Raymond Dearie, Judge Cannon then overruled a number of his procedural proposals and sided with Mr Trump’s attorneys on several key points.
The appeals court ruled that Judge Cannon had “improperly exercised equitable jurisdiction” and directed her to stand down from the case.
Slate legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern called that decision “one of the most humiliating appellate smackdowns in recent history, a total demolition of literally every action that Cannon had taken from the outset of the case”, also labelling the judge “a venal mediocrity”. He also suggested that the “total lack of principle” and “evident incapacity to experience shame” was likely to prove beneficial to Mr Trump once again this summer.
Judge Cannon is of American-Cuban descent and was born in Cali, Colombia, in 1981. She was raised in Miami where she attended the Ransom Everglades School, then Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and then the University of Michigan Law School.
She clerked for an appellate judge in Iowa for one year after graduating, then worked for the corporate law firm Gibson Dunn in Washington DC, from 2009 to 2012 and then as a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of Florida, based out of Fort Pierce, from 2013 to 2020.
Following her nomination by Mr Trump, she was confirmed as a federal judge by the US Senate in November 2020 in the dying days of his one-term administration.
Her appointment to the bench came just 12 years after she first qualified to practice law, the minimum experience the American Bar Association requires nominees to have.
Judge Cannon is a registered Republican, has been a member of the conservative Federalist Society since 2005 and reportedly donated $100 to Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s gubernatorial election campaign in 2018.
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