Former president Donald Trump’s criminal indictment on charges stemming from his handling of classified documents will be overseen — at least initially — by a federal judge whom a higher court criticized for a series of rulings that were unusually favorable to Trump during the early stages of the investigation, according to five people familiar with the matter.
The judge, Aileen Cannon, who Trump appointed to the bench in 2020, is scheduled, at least for now, to preside over the former president’s first appearance in US District Court in Miami on Tuesday, the people said. But it was not clear whether Cannon would remain assigned for the entirety of Trump’s case.
Cannon’s involvement was reported earlier by ABC News.
Angela Noble, the chief clerk of court for the Southern District of Florida, said in an email exchange with The New York Times last fall that new cases are randomly assigned among the judges in the district, rather than automatically assigned to a judge who has heard a related matter.
The chances that Cannon would randomly receive the assignment were low. There are 15 active US District Court judges in South Florida, along with 11 on senior status who are still assigned to hear cases but at a reduced workload.
Noble also pointed to a rule that allows either party in a new case to ask for a case to be transferred to another judge who is already overseeing a similar, pending matter, which would avoid unnecessary overlap.
But Trump’s earlier lawsuit is no longer pending before Cannon.
Last fall, Cannon presided over an unusual and highly contentious legal battle between the Justice Department and Trump’s lawyers over whether to pause the documents’ investigation so that an outside arbiter could review thousands of records seized by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club and residence in Florida.
Ruling for Trump, Cannon effectively froze a significant portion of the government’s inquiry, barring prosecutors from using the materials seized from Mar-a-Lago for any “investigative purpose” connected to the case against Trump until the work of the arbiter, known as a special master, was finished.
An appeals court sitting in Atlanta ultimately overruled Cannon, scrapped the special master’s review, and allowed the investigation of Trump to resume unhindered.
In a sharply critical decision, a three-member panel of the appeals court said Cannon never had the proper jurisdiction to intervene in the case and order the review. The court also chided her for stopping federal investigators from using the files seized from Mar-a-Lago, saying there was no justification for treating Trump differently than any other target of a search warrant.
“It is indeed extraordinary for a warrant to be executed at the home of a former president — but not in a way that affects our legal analysis or otherwise gives the judiciary license to interfere in an ongoing investigation,” the court wrote.