The Trump Trials: A Look at the Judge

Former President Donald Trump has been indicted with 34 felony charges by the New York County District Attorney’s Office. The charges allege that Trump purchased damaging information about himself, subsequently falsifying business records in order to hide those acquisitions. The case will be overseen by the Hon. Juan Manuel Merchan, an acting justice for the New York County Supreme Court.

Who is the Hon. Juan Manuel Merchan?

The youngest of six children, Merchan was born in Bogota, Colombia. Six years later, his family emigrated to Jackson Heights in Queens, where Merchan spent his formative years working various jobs, such as delivering kosher meat, washing dishes at a diner, managing a hotel, and carrying groceries. He went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in marketing management from Baruch College in 1990, followed by a J.D. from Hofstra University’s Maurice A. Deane School of Law in 1994.

He launched his legal career in 1994, working as an assistant district attorney in the Trial Division of the New York County District Attorney’s Office, the same office that is currently prosecuting Trump. While there, he also worked in the Special Prosecutions Bureau of the Investigation Division. However, he left the office in 1999 in order to become the deputy assistant attorney general in-charge of the Nassau County region for the New York State Office of the Attorney General. He continued to advance in his career, eventually becoming an assistant attorney general in-charge of affirmative litigation for Suffolk County and Nassau County.

After being appointed to the Family Court of the City of New York in Bronx County by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2006, Merchan was subsequently named to the New York State Court of Claims by former Governor David Paterson and the New York State Supreme Court by Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau in 2009. Throughout his judicial career, Merchan has presided over numerous high-profile cases, including that of Anna Gristina, a suburban mother charged with operating a high-end Manhattan escort service. He has also been assigned to preside over the upcoming criminal trial of Steven Bannon, a former Trump advisor indicted on charges of fraud and money laundering in relation to a fundraising scheme for a non-profit tasked with financing the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. The trial is set to commence in November 2023.

Trump & Merchan: A Thorny History

Merchan was selected to preside over the Trump case as part of a judge rotation system that assigns judges to oversee grand juries and any resulting cases. However, this isn’t the first time he has presided over a Trump-affiliated matter. He also handled the New York County District Attorney’s previous criminal cases against the Trump Organization and its Chief Financial Officer, Allen Weisselberg. Both defendants were charged with tax fraud related to off-the-books compensation and gifts for executives. Over the course of the case, Merchan played a critical role in the negotiations that led to Weisselberg’s guilty plea and the Trump Organization’s subsequent conviction and sentencing. In exchange for agreeing to testify against the Trump Organization, Weisselberg was sentenced to five months in prison. His testimony, which helped persuade a jury to convict the Trump Organization, pushed Merchan to charge the company with a $1.6 million fine—the maximum penalty for the crime.

Prior to founding Trellis, Nicole Clark was a business litigation and labor and employment attorney who handled litigation in both state and federal courts. She regularly represented multinational corporations in claims ranging from high-profile trade secret disputes to complex class-action litigation. Frustrated by sending internal emails and collecting anecdotes on judges in order to make strategic case recommendations, she built Trellis to solve her own need for access to data, information, and analytics at the state trial court level. Prior to law school, Nicole attended Bard College, beginning her college coursework at the age of sixteen. She graduated with honors from University of Massachusetts Amherst with a BA in Journalism, and received her Juris Doctorate from Rutgers School of Law in Newark, NJ. Nicole sat for the Bar Exam in California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and remains licensed to practice law in all three states.