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Judge in Trump hush-money trial cautioned for Biden donation.

Photo : AFP

A state ethics panel has dismissed a complaint against Judge Juan M. Merchan, who is presiding over former President Donald Trump's hush money trial, regarding minor political donations. The complaint, lodged last summer, highlighted Judge Merchan's contributions to Democratic political campaigns, including a $15 donation to President Joe Biden's campaign and a $10 contribution to a group named "Stop Republicans."

In contravention of state judicial ethics rules prohibiting judges from making political contributions, Judge Merchan's donations prompted the filing of the complaint. However, Justice Merchan disclosed that the complaint, dating back over a year, was dismissed in July with a caution, as confirmed by Al Baker, a spokesman for the court system. Despite requests, neither the commission nor Justice Merchan disclosed the contents of the caution letter, citing confidentiality rules.

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The incident sheds light on broader patterns of misconduct within the New York judiciary, as revealed in the commission's 2024 annual report. Multiple judges have been found to have breached rules prohibiting political contributions by court employees. While such infractions are typically met with minimal sanctions, judges have often misconstrued these rules as applicable solely to official organizational activities, rather than personal political affiliations.

Amidst these ethical concerns, Trump's legal team also raised scrutiny over Justice Merchan's adult daughter's employment at a Democratic consulting firm. Despite calls for recusal, Justice Merchan remained steadfast in his position, and appellate court judges declined to intervene, allowing the trial to proceed.

The trial itself centers on allegations that Trump orchestrated a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign to silence her regarding an alleged sexual encounter. The payment, facilitated by Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen, is alleged to have been falsely recorded as a legal expense reimbursement.

Throughout the proceedings, Trump has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, casting aspersions on Justice Merchan and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, who brought the case, alleging political bias due to their Democratic affiliations. Despite these challenges, the trial is nearing its conclusion, with the outcome poised to have significant ramifications for the former president.

May 18, 2024 11:51 a.m. 527

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