Who Is the Colombia-Born Judge Handling Donald Trump’s Trial?

Amid the case that is capturing the world’s attention is Juan Merchan, a New York state Supreme Court judge, who was in charge of reading the accusations against the former US president

Donald Trump appears in court on April 4, 2023. Photographer: Seth Wenig/Associated Press/Bloomberg
April 05, 2023 | 01:23 PM

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Bogotá — Former US President Donald Trump faces 34 charges before the US justice system for alleged irregular payments to Stormy Daniels, an adult film star, to dissuade her from disclosing a sexual relationship between the two to the public.

Behind the trial is Juan Manuel Merchan, a Colombian judge of the Supreme Court of the state of New York with a reputation for being strict.

Trump pleaded not guilty to the 34 charges against him in a trial that has paralyzed the country, and as the first former US president in history to face criminal charges.

Trump, who held office from 2017-2021, allegedly made improper payments of $130,000 to Daniels before the 2016 presidential election to cover up an alleged decade-long infidelity.

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In the case, the majority of charges have to do with alleged “falsification of business records in the first degree,” which would represent “violations of Penal Code section 175.10.”

The spotlight is on this case as Trump, 76, seeks the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential race.

Colombia-born Merchan was in charge of the arraignment against the former president. Born in Bogotá, he moved to the US when he was six years old and lived in Queens, in New York.

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He was educated at the public Baruch College and Hofstra University School of Law.

In 1994, Merchan became a Manhattan prosecutor, in the same office that indicted Trump.

He has been a judge since 2006, when former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg nominated him as a family court judge in the Bronx, and since 2009 he has worked at the New York State Attorney’s Office.

Merchan was in charge of warning the defendant that he must comply with the rules and told the former president that he is expected to appear in court, Bloomberg News reported, and stressed that if Trump fails to do so, the trial could continue without him.

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The Colombia-born judge also presided over the case against Allen Weisselberg, former CFO of the Trump Organization. Weisselberg was convicted after pleading guilty to tax fraud in August, and testified against two Trump Organization companies.

Merchan also oversaw the case of Steve Bannon, a former advisor to Trump, for criminal fraud.

Trump went so far as to say on his Truth Social platform that Merchan hates him. However, his lawyer, Joe Tacopina, said they do not plan to request that the judge be removed from the case.

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Prosecutors expressed concern over social media posts they deemed irresponsible on the part of Donald Trump, who in the past has used this medium to launch pulses about his case.

Judge Merchan asked Trump to “please refrain from making statements that may incite violence or civil unrest”.

Trump’s controversial statements on social media included a warning that if he was indicted there would be “potential death and destruction”.

According to people close to Merchan, he is a strong-armed judge with a reputation for sternness, tolerating no interruptions.

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But at the same time, they describe him as compassionate and even conservative in his actions, such as the time he held a hearing in the Bannon case without notifying the press or the public, Bloomberg recalled.

Trump was first indicted in December 2019 for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

And he was indicted a second time in January 2021 for incitement to insurrection after the violent assault on Congress on January 6 of that year.

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After his term ended on January 20, 2021, Trump moved to his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.

More than a year after Twitter, Facebook and YouTube vetoed Trump following the events of January 6, 2021, when a crowd of the former president’s supporters stormed the Capitol, heeding Trump’s own messages inciting violence, he launched his own social network, Truth Social, in February 2022.