Judge in Trump New York porn star hush money case refuses to step aside for trial

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump appears by video conferencing before Justice Juan Merchan during a hearing before his trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, May 23, 2023. in this courtroom sketch.

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

The New York judge set to preside over the porn star hush money trial of Donald Trump refused on Monday to step off the case, saying he is certain he can be “fair and impartial” to the former president.

Judge Juan Merchan said that he had “carefully weighed” the legal standards for recusing himself after Trump cited the judge’s purported conflicts of interest.

Merchan’s order “finds that recusal would not be in the public interest.”

Merchan directly quoted a federal appeals court decision that urges judges to balance a policy of promoting public confidence in the court system against the chance that people questioning a judge’s impartiality were just trying to avoid “adverse consequences.”

Trump had asked for Merchan to step off the case in Manhattan Supreme Court, where his trial is set to begin in late March, citing three different areas of potential conflicts of interest.

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The Republican presidential candidate is charged in the court with multiple counts of falsifying business records related to a $130,000 hush money payment Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen made to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual tryst with Trump.

Although Trump denies having sex with Daniels, he and his company, the Trump Organization, reimbursed Cohen for the payment and gave him extra money in connection with it as well.

Trump’s lawyers argued that Merchan’s daughter presented him with a conflict of interest because she is head of a digital marketing company that works with Democratic candidates.

They also cited Merchan’s role in a separate criminal case involving Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer of Trump’s company, and the judge’s contributions of $35 to Democrats in 2020, of which $15 went to the campaign of President Joe Biden, who defeated Trump that year.

“This Court has examined its conscience and is certain in its ability to be fair and impartial,” Merchan wrote in a five-page decision.

“Defendant’s motion for recusal and for an explanation is Denied on all grounds,” the order states.

Merchan cited a 1988 New York federal appeals court decision related to judicial recusal.

“The judge presiding over a case is in the best position to appreciate the implications of those matters alleged in a recusal motion,” that ruling in the case known as In Re Drexel Burnham Lambert says.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting Trump, opposed the recusal request on the grounds that the “Defendant presents no arguments that fairly raise any actual or perceived conflict of interest or preconceived bias.”

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