Skip to Content

Who is Juan Merchan? What to know about the judge in Trump’s hush money case

By Devan Cole, CNN

(CNN) — The New York judge overseeing Donald Trump’s hush money trial will take center stage in the case Monday with jury selection kicking off in the historic criminal prosecution of the former president.

New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan is a seasoned jurist who is no stranger to Trump’s orbit. He has presided over the Trump Organization tax fraud trial, sentenced the former president’s close confidant Allen Weisselberg to prison over his role in the scheme and overseen former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s criminal fraud case.

But it’s the former president’s trial on charges that he illegally falsified business records over the reimbursement of hush money payments made before the 2016 election that will leave a lasting mark on Merchan’s long career atop the state-level trial court.

All eyes will be on the judge as he oversees the first trial Trump has in the four criminal cases brought against him by state and federal prosecutors last year. The presumptive Republican nominee has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Merchan has been described by observers as a “tough” judge, yet one who is fair, no matter who is before him.

Here’s what you need to know.

‘A man of his word’

Trump’s trial is likely to be a spectacle with wall-to-wall media coverage and a show of law enforcement to provide protection to the former president as he attends the proceedings, which are expected to last several weeks. In the lead-up to the start of the trial, Trump fanned the flames on social media with his views on the judge.

But in the courthouse, Merchan does not stand for disruptions or delays, attorneys who have appeared before him previously told CNN, and he’s known to maintain control of his courtroom even when his cases draw considerable attention.

“Judge Merchan was efficient, practical, and listened carefully to what I had to say,” Nicholas Gravante, the attorney who represented Weisselberg in his plea in the tax fraud case, said last year.

“He was clear in signaling his judicial inclinations, which helped me tremendously in giving Mr. Weisselberg informed legal advice,” Gravante said. “Judge Merchan was always well-prepared, accessible, and – most importantly in the Weisselberg matter – a man of his word. He treated me and my colleagues with the utmost respect, both in open court and behind closed doors.”

That sentiment was echoed by Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a private practice attorney who previously worked as a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, supervising cases Merchan presided over.

“[Merchan] doesn’t let the prosecutors or the defendants create any issues in his courtroom. He doesn’t let a media circus or any other kind of circus happen. I don’t think Donald Trump attacking him and threatening him is going to bode very well for him in the courtroom,” Agnifilo, who is also a CNN legal analyst, said last year before Trump was arraigned in the hush money case.

Merchan has attempted to get out ahead of any potential issues created by Trump during the trial by issuing a gag order against the former president in recent weeks. The order, which bars Trump from publicly commenting on witnesses and the staff of the court and district attorney, was later broadened by Merchan to cover the judge’s own family after Trump went after his daughter on social media.

“It is no longer just a mere possibility or a reasonable likelihood that there exists a threat to the integrity of the judicial proceedings. The threat is very real. Admonitions are not enough, nor is reliance on self-restraint,” Merchan wrote in his ruling expanding the gag order.

Trump is appealing the gag order, a move that is part of his broader effort to delay the hush money trial.

Merchan and other judges in the state have so far rejected Trump’s various bids to delay the trial, though Merchan did postpone the trial’s start date last month after a late production of discovery documents.

A ‘certified Trump hater’

Trump has a long history of attacking people involved in his criminal and civil cases, including the judges overseeing them.

Merchan is no exception.

Last month, the former president described him as a “certified Trump hater” on his Truth Social platform and went on to single out the judge’s daughter, Loren Merchan, over her Democratic ties in an attack that led the judge to expand the gag order.

In focusing on Loren Merchan, Trump has said that she is a senior executive at “a Super Liberal Democrat firm” that has worked with top Democrats, including President Joe Biden. The former president pushed the discredited claims that Loren Merchan posted an incendiary image of the former president behind bars on her social media account – an account that the court said didn’t even belong to her.

Trump also claimed Judge Merchan has ruled against him in pretrial motions “because his daughter makes money by working to ‘Get Trump.’”

Loren Merchan has not commented publicly on the case.

Though it’s true that Loren Merchan has served as president of Authentic Campaigns, a firm that does digital campaign work like online fundraising, mobile messaging and web design, the firm has scrubbed references to her on its site, and it’s difficult to directly link Authentic to specific political ads. Still, the firm works for campaigns that have disparaged Trump, including for being charged with crimes.

Last year, Merchan rejected a request by Trump for the judge to recuse himself from the case due to his daughter’s work. He wrote in his order that the court “has examined its conscience and is certain in its ability to be fair and impartial.”

Trump is challenging the judge’s decision to not step away from the case.

‘Tough’ but ‘compassionate’

Merchan showed some of his tough side when Weisselberg was sentenced in 2023, telling the former Trump associate that if he had not already promised him a five-month sentence, he would have handed him a “much greater” sentence after having listened to evidence at trial.

When he presided over Bannon’s criminal fraud case, Merchan chastised the former Trump aide’s new team of attorneys for delaying the case when they asked for more time to review new evidence.

In addition to the Trump cases, Merchan has also presided over other high-profile cases, including the “soccer mom madam” trial, in which he set a $2 million bond for suburban mom Anna Gristina, who was charged with running a $2,000-an-hour escort service for the wealthy, Bloomberg News reported.

Merchan also handed a 25-years-to-life sentence to a Senegalese man who raped and murdered his girlfriend.

Then-Trump attorney Timothy Parlatore said during an interview on CNN last year that Merchan was “not easy” on him when he tried a case before him, but echoed that the judge likely will be fair.

“I’ve tried a case in front of him before. He could be tough. I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be something that’s going to change his ability to evaluate the facts and the law in this case,” Parlatore said.

Merchan, however, is also credited by his peers for having helped create the Manhattan Mental Health Court, which he often presides over and where he has earned a reputation for “compassionate” rulings that give defendants second chances.

“I watched a colleague of mine try a shooting case where someone got shot, so he’s able to try those very serious violent crimes and then switch,” Brendan Tracy, a criminal defense attorney who previously served as an assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, told CNN last year.

“Maybe someone who was a serial shoplifter and then charged with grand larceny and is in mental health treatment court because they had mental health issues, he was able to handle the wide range of cases and do them all fairly,” Tracy added.

Still, Earl Ward, a trial attorney and chair of public defender nonprofit The Bronx Defenders, said that having watched Merchan preside over cases in the Mental Health Court, the judge often sided with prosecutors.

“He’s fair and his rulings are consistent with the law, but if it’s a close call, his reputation is that he lands on the prosecution’s side,” Ward previously told CNN.

Early career

Merchan launched his legal career in 1994 when he started off as an assistant district attorney in the trial division in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Several years later, he moved on to the state attorney general’s office, where he worked on cases in Long Island.

In 2006, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, then a Republican, appointed Merchan to Family Court in the Bronx, and Democratic Gov. David Paterson appointed him to the New York State Court of Claims in 2009, the same year he began serving as an acting New York Supreme Court judge.

Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Merchan emigrated to the United States at the age of 6 and grew up in the New York City neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, according to a New York Times profile of the judge. He was the first in his family to go to college.

Merchan initially studied business at Baruch College in New York before he dropped out of school to work, only to return several years later to finish school so that he could get his law degree, the Times reported.

He eventually received his law degree from Hofstra University.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Sydney Kashiwagi and CNN’s Marshall Cohen, Kara Scannell, Lauren del Valle and Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KIFI Local News 8 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content