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New York Law Journal
The New York County Lawyers Association (NYCLA) has a long history of defending sitting judges when they are unfairly attacked by litigants before them or in press coverage. Because rules of judicial conduct largely prevent judges from defending themselves from such attacks, NYCLA considers it an important role of a bar association to provide that defense.
The indictment of former President Donald Trump has attracted massive press coverage. Almost lost in the avalanche of news stories are the hyperbolic and unsupported attacks that former President Trump has launched at New York State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, the judge presiding over former President Trump’s criminal case.
While a litigant has the right to express a viewpoint regarding litigation and the judge overseeing that litigation, former President Trump has issued vitriolic statements about Justice Merchan that have nothing to do with the case and undermine the rule of law and the dignity of the judicial process. Indeed, Trump has even resorted to unwarranted attacks on Justice Merchan’s family. Yesterday, Trump called Justice Merchan “a Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife and family.” Several days ago, Trump claimed that Judge Merchan “HATES ME” and spelled his name incorrectly: “His name is Juan Manuel Marchan, was hand-picked by Bragg & the Prosecutors, & is the same person who ‘railroaded’ my 75-year-old former CFO, Allen Weisselberg, to take a ‘plea’ deal,” the former president wrote. Trump claimed that Judge Merchan had treated Trump’s company “VICIOUSLY.”
These unwarranted and unsubstantiated personal attacks do a disservice to the rule of law and our judicial system. NYCLA urges that the judicial process be allowed to operate free from such personal attacks upon Justice Merchan and, even worse, his family. Given the events of January 6, 2021, as well as the fact that the prosecutor has received death threats, these personal attacks on Justice Merchan and his family serve only to create an atmosphere of fear of intimidation. That is antithetical to the proper functioning of the judicial system. Trump has made similar vitriolic attacks on New York County D.A. Alvin Bragg and his family as well; Trump does not limit his schoolyard vitriol to judges. But D.A. Bragg is able, under the Rules of Professional Conduct, to defend himself in the press; Justice Merchan cannot.
NYCLA has criticized former President Trump in the past for his attacks on our judiciary, most notably in 2016 when he attacked the federal judge in his Trump University civil case as biased because of his Mexican ancestry. His remarks were unconscionable then and are so today. No less an authority than Trump’s own attorney Joe Tacopina stated on an ABC News show: “Do I think the judge is biased? Of course not.” Tacopina added: “How could I subscribe to that when I’ve had no interactions with the judge that would lead me to believe he’s biased?”
Vincent T. Chang, NYCLA President Adrienne Koch, NYCLA President-Elect