Meet the Colombian judge presiding over Trump’s historic case
Judge Juan Merchan is an active justice of the New York County Supreme Court, with more than 16 years on the bench.
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A Colombian-born American Judge presided over former President Donald Trump’s surreal arraignment on Tuesday, April 4, and could also oversee his trial. Justice Juan Merchan is a veteran jurist with over 16 years on the bench and carries a reputation for being serious yet understanding.
Merchan, who’s been a justice on the New York County Supreme Court overseeing criminal matters since 2009, is familiar with Trump and his complicated history.
In 2022, Merchan presided over the tax-fraud trial that led to the conviction of Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. Weisselberg was also a key witness who testified against the organization as part of a plea agreement. In the end, the Trump Organization was fined $1.6 million.
Merchan is also currently overseeing a criminal case against Trump’s ally, Steve Bannon, who is charged with fraud and money laundering in connection with a charity that was meant to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — one of the President’s biggest campaign promises.
As for why he was assigned to the current, unprecedented high-profile case, Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state court system, said the 16-year jurist was randomly assigned to oversee the investigative grand jury and then assigned to try any cases that came out of the grand jury.
Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Merchan emigrated to New York City when he was six years old where he grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens. His father had been a military officer in Colombia.
Merchan studied business at Baruch College in Manhattan, graduating in 1990, and earned his Juris Doctor from Hofstra University School of Law on Long Island in 1994, where his law career would begin.
After graduating from Hofstra University School of Law. He spent some time in the New York County District Attorney's Office, before becoming deputy assistant attorney general in Nassau County in 1999.
He would serve as an assistant attorney general in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, before being appointed to the bench in 2006 in Bronx County Family Court. Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau then appointed Merchan as an Acting Justice in the Supreme Court of New York in 2009, where he presides over felony criminal trials.
He is now tasked with overseeing the first trial in history in which a U.S. President is a criminal defendant.
Tuesday, April 4, was arraignment day for Trump, who left the courthouse shortly before 4 p.m. as the case was adjourned and headed straight to LaGuardia Airport to fly back home to Mar-a-Lago in Florida, where he verbally attacked the family of Justice Merchan just hours after the judge warned him to not make comments that could endanger others — like on Jan. 6.
"This is where we are right now. I have a Trump-hating judge, with a Trump-hating wife and family, whose daughter worked for Kamala Harris and now receives money from the Biden-Harris campaign," Trump said, referring to Merchan.
Merchan gave the warning to both sides, asking prosecutors to remind their witnesses not to make such public statements and telling Trump's defense team to do the same with not only him but "anybody else you need to."
In his comments to reporters on Wednesday evening, he recalled how Merchan had overseen the criminal trial of the Trump Organization that led to Weisselberg pleading guilty to financial crimes and to the disdain of Trump — he testified against his company.
"What the prosecutors and judges did to that man, I will never forget, because it is right out of the old Soviet Union," Trump told his supporters on Tuesday.
He also used this time to go at others including the wife of District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, the prosecutor who brought the 34 felony charges to the former President. In a post on his Truth Social platform on Monday, Trump called Bragg’s wife a "Trump-hating wife.”
This is not surprising behavior from Trump, who in his four years in the Oval Office, proved to be nasty with his public attacks, often going after colleagues and their families. He’s also attacked Elaine Chao, the wife of Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, calling her a racist nickname. She served four years in Trump's cabinet as the Secretary of Transportation.
Trump pleaded not guilty 34 felony charges including filing false business records in the first degree, a low-level felony that holds a maximum of four years in prison for each count, and as the now famous scandal of a $130,000 hush-money payment made by his former lawyer and “fixer” — Michael D. Cohen — who served three years in prison for tax evasion campaign-finance violations — to Stormy Daniels, a porn star, in the final days of the 2016 campaign.