Trump Ruling Lifts Profile of Judge and Raises Legal Eyebrows ~ Sept. 8, 2022


IAMI — In her just over 20 months as a federal judge, Aileen M. Cannon worked mostly in obscurity, becoming nominated and appointed to her position during the height of the coronavirus pandemic and at the end of a turbulent presidency.

Then, last month, she was assigned the most prominent case of her short judicial career, involving the very person who put her on the bench: former President Donald J. Trump.

On Monday, Judge Cannon granted Mr. Trump’s request to appoint an independent arbiter known as a special master to review materials seized last month from his private Florida club. The extraordinary and unusually broad decision, which could delay the criminal investigation into Mr. Trump, drew scrutiny from experts who questioned her legal reasoning and criticized some of the language in her opinion about what rights a former president is entitled to.

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William P. Barr, who was attorney general under Mr. Trump, took exception to her ruling, saying that the judge did not adequately address a key issue in dispute: whether a former president may invoke executive privilege to keep the executive branch itself from reviewing documents while investigating a potential crime. He said the answer is no.

“The opinion, I think, was wrong,” Mr. Barr said on Fox News on Tuesday. “And I think the government

should appeal it. It’s deeply flawed in a number of ways.”

Little is publicly known about Judge Cannon, 41, whose name quickly became familiar after her ruling during the holiday weekend. She joined the conservative Federalist Society as a law student in 2005 and maintained her ties to the group as her career unfolded, a fact that she made public during her Senate confirmation hearings in 2020. But according to people involved in the group’s activities, she was not an especially visible presence.

At the time of her nomination, Ms. Cannon had been a lawyer for 12 years, the minimum threshold to meet the American Bar Association’s qualification standard. Most of her career was spent as a federal prosecutor, though she had limited trial experience because she focused on appellate work.

As a judge, she had not overseen cases that attracted much attention before she was assigned Mr. Trump’s high-profile lawsuit. She got the case after Mr. Trump avoided visiting the issue with the magistrate who approved the search of his Mar-a-Lago estate.

Many of her hearings in the Southern District of Florida were at first handled via Zoom. And she works out of a courthouse in Fort Pierce, which has its share of routine drug and immigration cases but is generally a far quieter part of the region than bustling Miami.

“It’s usually like walking into a mausoleum up there,” Donnie Murrell, a criminal defense lawyer in West Palm Beach, said of the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, an imposing structure that opened in 2011. “You hear footsteps echoing when you walk.”

Valentin Rodriguez Jr., a defense lawyer based in West Palm Beach who worked opposite Ms. Cannon when she was a prosecutor and has appeared before her as a judge, said she was thorough, meticulous and often willing to rule against the government, as she did in Mr. Trump’s case.

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