June 20th, 2024

New York appeals judge rejects Donald Trump’s request to delay his April 15 hush money trial

By Michael R. Sisak And Jake Offenhartz, The Associated Press on April 8, 2024.

FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks, April 2, 2024, at a rally in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer, File)

NEW YORK (AP) – A New York appeals court judge has rejected former President Donald Trump’s request to delay his April 15 hush money criminal trial while he fights to move the case out of Manhattan.

The decision came Monday, a week before jury selection was set to start.

Trump’s lawyers had argued at an emergency hearing that the trial should be postponed while they seek a change of venue to move it out of heavily Democratic Manhattan.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

NEW YORK (AP) – Donald Trump asked a New York appeals court on Monday to move his hush money criminal trial out of Manhattan and reverse his gag order in an eleventh-hour bid for a delay just a week before the scheduled start.

At an emergency hearing, the former president’s lawyers asked a judge in the state’s mid-level appeals court to postpone the April 15 trial while they fight for a change of venue. The court signaled it would take up the gag order issue separately at a later date.

Trump lawyer Emil Bove argued that the presumptive Republican nominee faces “real potential prejudice” as a defendant in heavily Democratic Manhattan. Citing defense surveys and a review of media coverage, Bove argued that jury selection, scheduled to start next Monday, “cannot proceed in a fair manner.”

Trump has suggested on social media that the trial should be moved to Staten Island, the only New York City borough he won in 2016 and 2020.

Steven Wu, the appellate chief for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said trial Judge Juan M. Merchan had already rejected Trump’s requests to move or delay the trial as untimely.

“The question in this case is not whether a random poll of New Yorkers from whatever neighborhood are able to be impartial, it’s about whether a trial court is able to select a jury of 12 impartial jurors,” Wu said. He blamed Trump for stoking pretrial publicity with “countless media appearances talking about the facts of this case, the witnesses, and so on.”

Justice Lizbeth González noted that Monday’s hearing didn’t involve an appeal, per se, but the defense’s desire for an emergency stay – a court order that would prevent the trial from starting on time. She said she would review related court filings and issue a decision “at some point.”

Paperwork relating to Trump’s appeals were placed under seal and not publicly available.

A person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press that along with challenging the location of his trial, Trump is also fighting a gag order, which Merchan recently expanded to prohibit Trump from making comments about the judge’s family. The person was unauthorized to speak publicly and did so on the condition of anonymity.

Trump had pledged to appeal after Merchan ruled last month that the trial would begin April 15. His lawyers had pleaded to delay the trial at least until summer to give them more time to review late-arriving evidence from a prior federal investigation into the matter.

Merchan, who had already moved the trial from its original March 25 start date because of the evidence issue, said no further delays were warranted.

Trump’s lawyers filed their appeals Monday on two separate court dockets. One was styled as a lawsuit against Merchan, a legal mechanism allowing them to challenge his rulings.

In New York, judges can be sued over some judicial decisions under a state law known as Article 78. Trump has used the tactic before, including against the judge in his civil fraud case in an unsuccessful last-minute bid to delay that case last fall.

Trump’s hush money trial is the first of his four criminal indictments slated to go to trial and would be the first criminal trial ever of a former president.

Trump is accused of falsifying his company’s records to hide the nature of payments to his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who helped him bury negative stories during his 2016 campaign. Cohen’s activities included paying porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 to suppress her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.

Trump pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels. His lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses.

Trump’s move Monday is the latest escalation in his battles with Merchan.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee assailed the judge on social media after he imposed a gag order last month barring Trump from making public statements about jurors, witnesses and others connected the case. After Trump’s complaints, Merchan expanded the gag order to include members of his own family.

Last week, Trump renewed his request for the judge to step aside from the case, citing Merchan’s daughter’s work as the head of a firm whose clients have included his rival President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other Democrats.

The former president alleges the judge is biased against him and has a conflict of interest because of his daughter’s work. The judge rejected a similar request last August.

Trump has also made numerous other attempts to get the trial postponed, echoing a strategy he’s deployed in his other criminal cases. “We want delays,” Trump proclaimed to TV cameras outside a February pretrial hearing in his hush money case.

Merchan last week rejected his request to delay the trial until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on presidential immunity claims he raised in another of his criminal cases.

Trump also filed an eve-of-trial lawsuit against the judge in his New York civil fraud case, accusing the jurist of repeatedly abusing his authority. Among other issues, Trump’s lawyers in that case complained that Judge Arthur Engoron had refused their request to delay the trial. Their suit was filed about three weeks before the trial was slated to begin.

A state appeals court rejected Trump’s claims, and the trial started as scheduled Oct. 2.

During the civil trial, Trump sued Engoron again, this time over a gag order he’d issued after Trump smeared the judge’s principal law clerk in a social media post. The gag order barred parties in the case – and, later, their lawyers as well – from commenting publicly on court staffers, though not on the judge himself.

A sole appeals judge lifted the gag order, but a four-judge appellate panel ultimately restored it two weeks later. The panel said Trump’s lawyers should have followed a normal appeals process instead of suing the judge. Trump’s attorneys said they had been trying to move quickly.

Engoron, who decided that case without a jury, ruled that Trump, his company and key executives defrauded bankers and insurers by overstating his wealth in documents used to get loans and coverage. Trump denied any wrongdoing and is appealing the finding and over $454 million in penalties and interest.

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Associated Press reporter Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

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