Trump sues hush money judge in last-ditch effort to stop criminal trial

A state appeals court judge has denied Donald Trump’s 11th-hour attempt to delay his New York hush money case while the former president makes a series of last-ditch efforts to indefinitely stall his first-ever criminal trial, less than one week before it is set to begin.

An appeals court docket on Monday indicated that the former president filed litigation against New York Justice Juan Merchan, who imposed a gag order preventing parties in the case from targeting members of the court, attorneys and their families. The documents remained under seal.

Mr Trump’s attorneys also pressed the court to move the case out of Manhattan, arguing that New Yorkers are biased against him and he would be denied a fair trial. An appellate judge on Monday afternoon rejected Mr Trump’s attempt to stall the trial while he tries to move the case.

The appeals court will hear arguments on his attempts to lift the gag order on Tuesday.

Mr Trump’s attempts to delay the proceedings follow his repeated failures to stop what will be the first of four criminal trials he is expected to face in the coming months.

Last year, in the first criminal indictment against him, a grand jury charged the former president with 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with repayments to his then-lawyer Michael Cohen, who arranged a hush-money scheme to prevent the release of potentially compromising stories about Mr Trump and his affairs.

The case from the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg could rely on Cohen’s testimony that Mr Trump authorised his business to falsely file payments as legal expenses, part of an alleged effort to quash stories that could interfere with then-candidate Trump’s 2016 campaign, according to prosecutors.

He has pleaded not guilty.

The filings from Mr Trump’s legal team on Monday appeared on the docket hours after Mr Bragg’s office swatted down attorneys’ demands to remove the judge from the case, which the district attorney called an attempt to “pollute” the court and continue Mr Trump’s attacks “as part of a meritless effort to call the integrity of these proceedings into question.”

That motion represented “yet another last-ditch attempt to address [the] defendant’s real objective … to delay this proceeding indefinitely.”

Mr Trump’s attorneys similarly sued a judge last year to block gag orders in a sweeping civil fraud case that prevented the former president from disparaging court staff. Appeals judges rejected those requests, and gag orders have remained in place.

Judge Merchan’s order, issued hours after Mr Trump lashed out at his daughter on his Truth Social last month, blocks the former president from making any such statements “made with the intent to materially interfere” with any work in the case, which is scheduled to go to trial on 15 April.

Mr Bragg initially requested a limited gag order in February, citing Mr Trump’s “long history” of “inflammatory” remarks aimed at the prosecutors, judges, court staff and others wrapped up in his mountain of criminal and civil litigation.

The district attorney’s office also pointed to Mr Trump’s threatening social media posts, including a photo he posted that depicts him wielding a baseball bat at the back of Mr Bragg’s head.

The gag order request also noted that Mr Bragg’s office received at least two “terroristic mailings” that included envelopes with white powder.

Mr Trump “has a long history of making public and inflammatory remarks about the participants in various judicial proceedings against him, including jurors, witnesses, lawyers and court staff,” according to prosecutors, noting that such statements “pose a significant and imminent threat to the orderly administration of this criminal proceeding.”

Last week, the judge expanded the scope of the order to prohibit attacks against family members of court staff and attorneys involved in the case, citing Mr Trump’s “very real” threat to the trial’s integrity.

“The average observer must now, after hearing [Mr Trump’s] recent attacks, draw the conclusion that if they become involved in these proceedings, even tangentially, they should worry not only for themselves but for their loved ones as well,” Judge Merchan wrote.

“Such concerns will undoubtedly interfere with the fair administration of justice, and constitute a direct attack on the rule of law itself,” he added.

Judge Merchan also has rejected Mr Trump’s attempts to delay the trial until the US Supreme Court issues a ruling on his “presidential immunity” defence surrounding a separate criminal case.

He also has yet to rule on Mr Trump’s argument that he will not get a fair trial because of “prejudicial media coverage.” On his Truth Social, Mr Trump has suggested that the case should be moved to Staten Island, the only New York borough he won in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

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