Trump Judge Has Had Some Dramatic Cases, Like ‘Soccer Mom Madam’
(Bloomberg) -- The New York judge set to hear the criminal case against Donald Trump’s company and its chief financial officer has had his share of courtroom drama.
In one case Juan Merchan oversaw, a suburbanite named Anna Gristina became the subject of tabloid headlines in 2012 after she was charged with running a $2,000-an-hour escort service for wealthy and powerful men. Merchan set a $2 million bond, forcing Gristina to spend 4 months in New York City’s forbidding Rikers Island jail before an appeals court reduced her bail. In the end she pleaded guilty and got six months, including time served. A Lifetime movie about the case titled “Soccer Mom Madam” premiered June 6.
Proceedings in Merchan’s court can be more volatile than in the federal courthouse a few doors away, where the former president and the Trump Organization have often litigated. As Merchan sentenced a defendant to 13 years in prison for gun possession and reckless endangerment in 2016, the man’s sister had to be locked up herself for interrupting and threatening the prosecutor, saying, “I’m gonna kill the DA,” according to a report in the New York Daily News.
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Merchan sentenced to community service two men who in 2013 parachuted from the Freedom Tower, the skyscraper that replaced the World Trade Center towers. He told them they had “sullied the memories” of the people who died in the terror attacks there. In 2012 he sentenced a Senegalese man who had raped and murdered his former girlfriend to 25 years to life, having ruled earlier that the defendant couldn’t call a “witch doctor” to support his claim that he was under a curse that made him kill.
He also presides over cases in Manhattan’s Mental Health Court, which handles nonviolent criminal cases involving people with mental illnesses and connects defendants with special services to divert them from prison where appropriate.
Started in DA’s Office
Merchan began his legal career in 1994 as a Manhattan prosecutor, in the same office that brought the case against Trump’s company, then left to work for the state attorney general. Former mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed him as a Family Court judge in the Bronx in 2006. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, which owns Bloomberg News.
Merchan has been an acting justice in the criminal section of Manhattan’s trial-level court, the New York County Supreme Court, since 2009. He’s a graduate of Baruch College and Hofstra University School of Law.
He has a critic in Norman Pattis, who represented Gristina in the escort service case and “did not enjoy the experience.”
“You’ve got an adversary and you’ve got the judge, and the three of you are working together to solve difficult and explosive issues,” the lawyer said. “He was a difficult man to work with.”
A call to the judge for comment wasn’t answered. New York state court spokesman Lucian Chalfen offered a touch of irony in response.
A defense attorney “criticizing a judge regarding the outcome of their case?” he said. “That’s a first.”
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