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Chutkan Demonstrates Her Stuff

Judge Tanya Chutkan will preside over the federal case in which Donald Trump (alone) is accused of conspiracy against the United States and voters. It will probably be the first case against Trump to go to trial. It is currently scheduled to begin on March 4, 2024. A big question is: What kind of judge is Chutkan? Will Trump be able to wrap her around his little finger? We won't know for sure until the trial, but there are some clues.

Specifically, she just handled a lower-profile, but related, case. An Indiana man, Antony Vo, was charged with breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. So, did she think this was just an ordinary tourist visit by a guy trying to cut the line, or what?

Well, for one thing, when Vo claimed that Trump gave him permission to enter the Capitol, she didn't buy it. She ruled that Trump's incendiary speech did not authorize anyone to enter the restricted Capitol grounds. Nice try, but no. The case was not thrown out as Vo wished.

In the voir dire, Chutkan asked all the potential jurors if they had strong feelings about people who don't accept the 2020 election results. Some did, but if they also said they would follow the facts and the law, strong feelings were not disqualifying.

The Judge also made it clear that she has little patience with defendants who do not comply with the pretrial restrictions they agreed to in order to get free on bail. When she learned that Vo had been attending nightly vigils outside the D.C. jail holding Jan. 6 defendants, a violation of the restrictions placed on his activities in the D.C. area, she said: "I could, in my discretion, allow you to become more familiar with the D.C. jail. But I'm not going to." Instead she imposed an 8 p.m. curfew on Vo. She said she had no problem with his beliefs about the other defendants, but she was not happy with his violating the conditions he had agreed to. That could obviously apply to Trump, who is violating them left and right daily. She has already said that his inflammatory remarks might force her to move the trial date to some date before March 4.

Chutkan reached the boiling point when Vo's defense attorneys attempted to introduce evidence they had not previously shared with her. Attorneys are required to disclose evidence in advance, so the judge can decide if it is admissible. She said they were trying to conduct a "trial by ambush," and that "If they [the prosecutors] had done this to you, I would be seriously entertaining your motion for a mistrial." In the end, she said she was bending over backwards to be fair and allowed the evidence. If Trump's lawyers try this stunt, will they get away with it? Maybe once, but probably not a second time.

From the very beginning, Chutkan made it clear that she values the jurors' time and comfort. She doesn't like stunts that keep the jurors waiting. She also noted that she likes to keep her courtroom warm for the jurors, even though some judges like to keep it freezing to keep the jurors awake. She often smiled at the jurors and sometimes made little jokes to amuse them.

All in all, there is little about how Chutkan handled this case that will give Trump's lawyers ideas about how they can take advantage of her. Nothing Vo's lawyers tried is likely to work. Vo was found guilty on all counts. (V)

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