Trump plans last-ditch effort to sue New York hush money judge

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump made a last-minute move on Monday to sue the judge presiding over his criminal hush money case a week before the trial is slated to begin, according to court records.

The lawsuit was not available to the public, but online records showed Trump attorney Todd Blanche was filing an action against New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan. Related paperwork is sealed for the time being, according to the online docket.

Trump’s complaint against Merchan comes as the former president has tried at every opportunity to delay his April 15 trial over the 34-count indictment accusing him of concealing a hush money payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Attorneys filed to an appeals court in a bid to delay the trial and challenge a gag order that Merchan recently imposed on Trump, which prevents him from verbally attacking prosecutors, witnesses, and the families of prosecutors and the judge.

The complaint is essentially an appeal in the form of a lawsuit and comes as Trump last week filed his second motion for the judge to recuse from the case, this time over allegations that Merchan has a conflict of interest because his daughter works for Authentic Campaigns, a liberal firm that makes money from vehemently anti-Trump clients such as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).

Trump’s lawsuit will likely prompt a single appellate court judge to issue a preliminary ruling on Monday and tee up a full five-judge panel to consider Trump’s request in the coming days. That means Merchan will be determining whether to recuse himself from the case while an appeals court will be weighing the lawsuit against Merchan’s gag order.

In addition, Trump’s team is expected to ask the court in a separate filing with the appeals court on Monday to move the trial outside of Manhattan, arguing that the former president can’t receive a fair trial in the solidly blue borough, according to the New York Times.

Trump has taken to social media to blow off steam about a number of figures in his four criminal cases as he faces a total of 88 charges across the indictments. That prompted Merchan to impose a gag order on Trump, and more recently, the gag order was upgraded to cover Merchan’s family after the former president accused him of impartiality due to the work of his daughter, Loren Merchan.

Judge Juan Merchan poses for a picture in his chambers in New York on March 14, 2024. Merchan could become the first judge ever to oversee a former U.S. president’s criminal trial. He’s presiding over Donald Trump’s hush money case in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

In response to Trump’s most recent request to recuse Merchan, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office wrote that Trump’s efforts mirror some of his previous attempts to delay his criminal trial and recuse Merchan.

Prosecutors said in court papers made public on Monday that Trump’s request was “nothing more than his latest effort to delay the forthcoming trial.”

“The motion is yet another last-ditch attempt to address defendant’s real objective, which is — as the Court has already recognized — to delay this proceeding indefinitely,” prosecutors wrote. 

Last year, Merchan denied Trump’s original recusal motion that cited his daughter’s employment and $35 in donations the judge made during the 2020 campaign cycle to the Biden campaign and two left-leaning groups. The judge said he accepted guidance from a state ethics advisory committee that said he need not step aside.

For Trump’s latest recusal motion, the filing pointed to Schiff as “at least six Authentic clients” who have solicited donations using electronic communications that have referenced the hush money case, including “communications around the time of the Indictment, the arraignment, and following the Court’s denial of President Trump’s recusal motion.”

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Trump also attempted to sue Justice Arthur Engoron before the start of his weekslong civil business fraud trial. The strategy at hand is an Article 78 action, a special process that can be used to challenge New York state government agencies and, in some cases, can be used against judges.

This report will be updated when the lawsuit becomes publicly available.

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