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Why the Judge Matters

The magistrate judge who handled Donald Trump's arraignment won't be the trial judge. That is scheduled to be Judge Aileen Cannon, unless she recuses herself or Special Counsel Jack Smith goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and asks it to disqualify her due to her evident bias, something the Court smacked her down for earlier in the case. She hasn't made any noise about recusing herself, so we have to imagine she dreams of President Trump appointing her to the Eleventh Circuit and maybe even to the Supreme Court if a vacancy opens up there. Smith hasn't talked about trying to get her off the case, but he never talks about the case except when he has taken an official action.

Does the judge matter? In the immortal words of Sarah Palin "You betcha." The judge has a lot of power over any case. Let us count the ways.

In short, a judge has enormous influence on any case, and especially a high-profile one like this. Of course, being in the bag for Trump will get a lot of hate directed at the judge, but it might be worth it for a seat on the Eleventh Circuit and maybe later the Supreme Court.

One thing that could have a big effect on the trial is that Judge Cannon has been on the bench only 2½ years and has almost no experience with criminal trials. She was assigned 224 criminal cases since she started the job, but 220 of them ended in plea deals and there was no trial. The four cases that went to trial took a grand total of 14 days. Now she may get to preside over the biggest criminal case in the nation's history.

She is the daughter of a Cuban exile and was a member of the Federalist Society at the University of Michigan Law School. That much is known about her. But it is her lack of experience that may be even worse than her bias. Trump's case will certainly raise issues that would vex even a grizzled veteran judge, let alone a rookie. Just one of them is how to protect the jury from the massive media coverage that will occur during the trial. It is expected to last at least a month. Cannon could lock all the jurors in a hotel every night, but that would radically reduce the jury pool as people with children and other responsibilities would then beg off. And she would also have to get the hotel to remove the televisions from their rooms and take away their cell phones, iPads, etc. This would result in a very cranky jury, some of whom might decide she needs to be taught a lesson so they ignore all of her instructions.

The chief clerk of the South Florida courts has stated that all the normal procedures were followed and Cannon was simply chosen at random by a computer, which is the normal way judges are assigned. The computer's algorithm takes into account who is an active judge and who has senior status, how many cases each judge currently has, where the cases originate, and things like that, but does not consider overt bias as a factor. (V)

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