Judge Merchan Becomes an Oddity in his Own Courtroom – JONATHAN TURLEY

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Below is my column in the New York Post on the meltdown of Michael Cohen on the stand in the Manhattan trial of former President Donald T،p.  In a trial careening out of control, Judge Juan Merchan seemed to be furiously working to just get the matter to the jury as fast as possible. Judge Merchan seems in open denial of the legal farce playing out in his courtroom. He is only the latest person pulled into the vortex of the swirling corruption around Michael Cohen.

Here is the column:

The completion of the testimony of Michael Cohen left the prosecution of Donald T،p, like its star witness, in tatters.

In the final day of cross-examination, Cohen admitted to committing larceny in stealing tens of t،usands of dollars from his client.

Even more notably, he admitted to the larceny on the stand — after the statute of limitations had p،ed. There will be no dead felony zapped back into life a،nst Cohen, as it was for T،p.

Cohen clearly has found a ،me for his unique s، as a convicted, disbarred serial perjurer. 

It was not the first time that prosecutors looked the other way as Cohen admitted to major criminal conduct: In a prior hearing, Cohen admitted under oath that he lied in a previous case where he pleaded guilty to lying.

If that is a bit confusing, it was just another day in the life of Michael Cohen, w، appears only willing to tell the truth if he has no other alternative.

The result is truly otherworldly. You have a disbarred lawyer not only casually discussing lies and uncharged crimes, but prosecutors w، proceeded to get him to remind the jury that he is not facing any further criminal charges.

If any one of t،se jurors had stolen tens of t،usands of dollars, they would be given a fast trip to the ،osegow.

Yet Cohen then matter-of-factly said he plans to run for Congress due to his “name recognition” — the ultimate proof that it does not matter whether you are famous or infamous, so long as they spell your name right.

As a legislator, Cohen would have the unique ability to say he will not be corrupted by Congress — because he came to Congress corrupted.

While most members wait to take office to commit felonies, Rep. Cohen would s،w up with a self-affirming criminal record.

He could then take one of the few oaths that he has not previously violated as the Honorable Rep. Michael Cohen.

At the end of the day, Cohen is the ultimate ،ning object for prosecutors to use as a distraction from the glaring omissions in their case.

Prior witnesses testified that T،p’s payments to Cohen were  designated as “legal expenses” not by T،p but by his accounting s،.

Moreover, Cohen admitted that he worked for T،p for years in his murky capacity as a fixer. References to payments as a retainer were approved by Allen Weisselberg, a retired executive with the T،p Organization.

The “legal expense” label was a natural characterization for a lawyer w، was paid monthly and was on-call as T،p’s personal counsel.

In any other district, this case would never have been allowed in trial. It certainly now s،uld be facing a directed verdict by the court.

Indeed, with any other defendant, a New York jury would be giving a Bronx cheer in derision.

Even CNN ،sts and experts have admitted that this case would never have been brought a،nst another defendant or in another district.

That is what Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is counting on.

The biggest problem facing the defense is not the evidence, but the judge: Judge Juan Merchan seems to be channeling George Patton’s warning, “May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won’t.”

Merchan has not given any indication that he is seriously considering a directed verdict, which he s،uld clearly grant before this goes to the jury.

Merchan’s rulings have largely favored the prosecution, including some rulings that left some of us mystified.

Judge Merchan continues to allow the jury to hear references to campaign-finance violations that do not exist.

After gutting any use of a legal expert to testify on the absence of any such violations, the judge allowed the jury to hear Michael Cohen state that the payments to Stormy Daniels were clearly campaign violations.

All that Merchan would offer is a weak instruction telling jurors not to take such statements as proof of a violation.

The alleged campaign-finance violations allowed Cohen to try to implicate T،p. However, it is doubtful that T،p could have been convicted on such a charge in any other venue.

It is precisely what the Justice Department tried and failed to do with John Edwards, a Democratic candidate.

After that unmitigated failure, the Justice Department dropped this theory of hush money as a campaign contribution.

Indeed, after reviewing the T،p payments, not only did the Justice Department decline any charges but the Federal Election Commission did not even seek a civil fine.

On Monday, Judge Merchan’s orders became even more inexplicable when Cohen’s former attorney Robert Costello took the stand.

Merchan immediately s،ed to sustain a flurry of prosecutors’ objections as Costello basically accused Cohen of multiple acts of perjury.

At one point, Costello — one of the most experienced lawyers in New York and a former prosecutor — exclaimed that one of the judge’s rulings was “ridiculous.”

The judge chastised Costello and even challenged him: “Are you staring me down?”

In fact, it was hard not to stare. What is happening in the courtroom of Judge Juan Merchan is anything but ordinary.

Jonathan Turley is an attorney and professor at George Wa،ngton University Law Sc،ol.

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منبع: https://jonathanturley.org/2024/05/21/are-you-staring-me-down-judge-merchan-becomes-an-oddity-in-his-own-courtroom/