Sun. May 19th, 2024

The courtroom for Trump’s trial becomes a test of power for an ex-president and a judge

By 37ci3 May7,2024

The remarkable aspect of Donald Trump’s criminal trial is the no-nonsense approach of Judge Juan Merca and the extent to which he – and he alone – controls the proceedings.

The judge is the judge in the courtroom, not the former president. Merchan continued Monday’s court by wishing Trump “Good morning.” That was perhaps the only kind word from former Trump Organization comptroller Jeffrey McConney in hours of testimony.

When the judge entered the courtroom, Trump stood with everyone else. When the judge sat down, Trump sat down. As the jurors spoke during a break, they avoided eye contact with the famous defendant, who stood silently as they passed.

All of this is normal protocol for a criminal trial. However, it became known that the protocol would fall apart when Trump was indicted.

The judge in the January defamation trial, Lewis Kaplan, threatened to eject Trump from the courtroom after the former president’s accuser, E. Jean Carroll, made vocal comments during his testimony. The judge told Trump at one point to “keep his voice down.”

Merchan minimizes theatrics. He pleaded guilty to a $1,000 fine at the start of Monday’s proceedings, marking Trump’s 10th violation of the gag order.

Fines are not an effective deterrent, Merchan warned, so the stakes have been raised. Additional violations could land Trump in prison, the judge said.

“The last thing I want to do is put you in jail,” Merchan said. “You are a former president of the United States and you may be the next president.”

Trump just sat and listened.

But when the court day ended, he struck a more belligerent tone in the hallway.

“Frankly, our Constitution is more important than a prison,” Trump told reporters in the hallway. “I’ll make that choice any day.”

It is impossible to say whether Trump will become jealous again and risk losing his freedom. But in the courtroom, at least, Trump showed more deference than defiance. To testify, she sat blindfolded at the defense table as she painstakingly went through the mechanics of paying Michael Cohen the $130,000 paid to McConney and later Trump Organization witness porn actress Stormi Daniels.

Courtroom sketch of former Trump Organization employee Jeffrey McConney
Jeffrey McConney, a former employee of the Trump Organization, testified on Monday.Jane Rosenberg / Reuters

George Grasso, a retired New York City judge and former top police officer, sat in the audience Monday to watch the proceedings. He praised Mercha for combining patience and determination in his relationship with Trump.

“Any other defendant who commits these repeated violations would already be jailed for contempt,” Grasso said in an interview. “He [Trump] trying to say he was treated differently. They treat him differently: he is given more freedom than a common defendant.”

“What the judge clearly did today was to let the defendant know, but he’s going to do that [jail Trump for more violations of the gag order], he doesn’t want to do it. ‘Here are the rules. Please comply!”

Looking thinner than during his presidency, Trump left the courtroom in the afternoon when the court adjourned. One of the prosecutors had just told Merchan that he expected the trial to last another two weeks.

Trump walked past reporters, court security, sketch artists and even a few New Yorkers like Grasso, who came into the courtroom with its faded wood paneling and exposed wires to watch the historic spectacle.

He frowned slightly as he glanced around the press section, but remained silent.

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By 37ci3

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