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Judge Cannon Won’t Preside Over Trump’s Arraignment — But She’ll Have Influence

Cannon will determine how quickly the case proceeds — and whether it will take place before the 2024 election.

Former President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at the Miami International Airport on June 12, 2023, in Miami, Florida.

A Florida magistrate judge, not controversial Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon, will preside over the former president’s arraignment on Tuesday.

Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman will handle Trump’s arraignment on 37 counts related to his handling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago in South Florida, according to The Miami Herald, though Cannon will remain the lead judge in the Mar-a-Lago case.

The report added that Goodman is a “well-regarded veteran magistrate who once worked as a newspaper reporter.”

“Judge Goodman is a magistrate judge doing what magistrate judges do— they conduct preliminary proceedings like arraignments and other pre-trial motions,” explained Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University. “They’re not Article III judges and this development does not indicate any change in judicial assignment is happening.”

Cannon, who faced criticism for a series of rulings siding with Trump that were later overturned by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, would have “extraordinary influence” over the former president’s criminal proceedings, Politico’s Kyle Cheney reported, leading to growing calls for her to recuse from the case.

Cannon will determine how quickly the case proceeds — and whether it will take place before the 2024 election.

“As the trial judge, she has almost unfettered discretion on how to operate her courtroom, schedule deadlines, hear arguments and obviously enter rulings, many of which, given the nature of this case, can’t be immediately appealed,” veteran national security attorney Mark Zaid told Politico. “There are so many ‘little’ things she can do without any real oversight that can have significant substantive impact on how this prosecution plays out.”

Former federal prosecutor Brandon Van Grack predicted that “it will be a challenge to bring it before we are well into the primaries.”

“These issues are incredibly important to understand because we are talking a case that could influence an election — and more than just the general election,” he told The New York Times.

Cannon will also have significant influence over jury selection in the case and will determine the process to vet potential jurors in the case which could include in-person questioning known as “voir dire” and a chance for both sides to strike jurors, experts told Politico.

“Voir dire is really a big one, because the judge makes decisions about which jurors are dismissed for cause, and if that is done in a one-sided way, it can really put the prosecution in a bind,” former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance told Politico.

Cannon will also handle pre-trial motions that could affect the government’s case. Trump’s team has already alleged prosecutorial misconduct by the Justice Department and reportedly intends to seek to block evidence obtained from Trump’s attorney after a D.C. judge allowed prosecutors to pierce attorney-client privilege under the crime-fraud exception.

“If she were to grant a motion to suppress the evidence obtained in the search, for example, that would really gut the case,” former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade Politico. “Similarly, she could suppress the testimony of Evan Corcoran, making her own independent decision that the crime-fraud exception does not apply in this case.”

Cannon will also determine what is and is not admissible evidence in the trial.

“Letting evidence in, keeping evidence out. That ability to control the evidence presented to a jury is a powerful tool for any judge,” former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi told Politico.

There are also expected to be hidden fights over the use of classified evidence and the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA, which “was intended to reduce the opportunities for so-called graymail in criminal cases involving national security, in which defendants threaten to expose sensitive secrets unless prosecutors drop charges against them,” according to the Times. If the DOJ obtained the intelligence community’s consent to use the 31 classified documents Trump is charged with illegally retaining based on assurances that they would not be publicly released, any rulings by Cannon requiring them to be shown in court could lead the government to drop charges related to those documents.

If Trump is convicted, Cannon would also determine his sentence for each count.

Aside from allegations of pro-Trump bias, Cannon has also only served on the bench since 2020 and is the most junior member of the court.

“She is one of the youngest, least experienced on the federal bench who has never had a case like this,” former federal prosecutor Joseph DeMaria told The Washington Post. “If Judge Cannon was at DOJ, she would not be assigned to this case.”

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg predicted that the earlier slap down of her rulings by an appeals court could make Cannon think twice about potentially controversial rulings.

“I don’t think she’s going to dismiss the charges or suppress major evidence. If she ever tried to do that, and I don’t think she will, it would go right up to the 11th Circuit and she doesn’t want to be put in time-out again,” he told MSNBC.

“Where I think she could hurt the prosecutors is delaying the process,” he added. “She has a lot of control over the timetable, and Trump is going to try to delay, delay, delay — he wants to push this out well beyond the 2024 election and that’s where Cannon could go along and be a problem for prosecutors, and it’s hard to overturn those decisions on appeal.”

Former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal argued that ultimately there is little Cannon could do in the face of the evidence against the former president.

“This case is incredibly strong,” he told MSNBC. “It doesn’t matter who the judge is, I think Jack Smith basically made the decision, this evidence is so strong, that you can put it before any judge, any jury and it’s going to lead to a conviction.”

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