Trump’s Attempt to Shift Hush-Money Case Rejected by Judge, Case Remains in New York State Court

by Michael Nguyen
Hush-money case

Wednesday saw a federal judge deny former President Donald Trump’s effort to have his hush-money criminal case relocated from New York state court to federal court. The judge, U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, ruled that Trump did not meet the stringent legal requirements necessary to alter jurisdiction.

Judge Hellerstein determined that the charges in the Manhattan case related to Trump’s personal affairs, not his presidential duties that would have warranted a transfer to federal court.

In a comprehensive 25-page decision, Hellerstein stated, “The preponderance of the evidence implies that this was a purely personal matter for the President — a concealment of an embarrassing incident. The hush-money paid to an adult film actress does not pertain to a President’s official duties. It in no way represents the nature of the President’s official responsibilities.”

This decision paves the way for Trump’s trial in a state court in Manhattan as soon as next spring, coinciding with the 2024 presidential primary season. This period could become particularly turbulent due to an anticipated surge in legal activity as the twice-indicted Republican seeks a comeback to the White House.

Trump also faces charges in a federal court in Florida, accused of illicitly accumulating classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate and obstructing investigators. The prosecution team wishes for this case to commence trial in December.

In response to Hellerstein’s decision, the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the hush-money case and advocated to keep it in state court, expressed satisfaction. Todd Blanche, Trump’s attorney, refrained from commenting. The ruling is open to appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hellerstein had earlier hinted at his decision during a hearing on June 27, where he dismissed defense claims that the alleged misconduct at the heart of Trump’s charges— reimbursing his personal attorney Michael Cohen as part of a scheme to suppress allegations of an affair during his first campaign—was within his presidential responsibilities.

In the state court, Trump, a Republican, pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to conceal reimbursements made to Cohen for his role in paying $130,000 to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Daniels claims she had an extramarital encounter with Trump years ago. Furthermore, Cohen also arranged for the National Enquirer to pay Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for the rights to her story about an alleged affair, a story that was then quashed by the supermarket tabloid in a dubious journalistic practice known as “catch-and-kill.”

Trump denied sexual encounters with either woman. His lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were valid legal expenses and not part of a cover-up attempt.

Trump’s legal team requested in May that the federal court assume control of the hush-money case, arguing he couldn’t be tried in state court as some of the alleged conduct occurred in 2017 during his presidency, including checks he reportedly wrote while in the Oval Office. Trump’s lawyers claimed that former federal officers, including ex-presidents, have the right to be tried in federal court for charges arising from their conduct in office.

Switching to federal court would’ve resulted in a more politically diverse jury pool—encompassing not only heavily Democratic Manhattan, where Trump is significantly unpopular, but also suburban counties north of the city where he enjoys more political backing.

However, Judge Hellerstein rejected these arguments, stating that Trump failed to elucidate “how hiring and making payments to a personal attorney to handle personal affairs carries out a constitutional duty.”

Aside from these legal considerations, Trump also sought to move the case to federal court because he believed he wouldn’t receive a fair trial in state court.

Despite Trump’s assertions that the New York state court system has been prejudiced against him and that the presiding state court judge, Juan Manuel Merchan, is biased against him, Judge Hellerstein denied his plea to move the indictment to federal court on the basis of alleged political motivation and state hostility. Hellerstein stated that there was no reason to believe that the New York judicial system wouldn’t provide Trump with equal justice under the law.

The hush-money trial involving Trump is slated to commence in state court on March 25, 2024. In addition to this case, Trump also faces several civil lawsuits set to go to trial in the upcoming months, further crowding his legal and political schedule.

Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mikesisak and Larry Neumeister at https://twitter.com/lneumeister and send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Hush-money case

What was the decision made by the federal judge regarding Donald Trump’s hush-money case?

The federal judge, U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, rejected Donald Trump’s bid to move his hush-money criminal case from New York state court to federal court.

On what grounds did the judge deny Trump’s request to move the case?

Judge Hellerstein ruled that the allegations in the case pertained to Trump’s personal life, not presidential duties that would have merited a move to federal court.

Where will Donald Trump’s trial take place and when is it expected to start?

The trial is expected to take place in a state court in Manhattan as early as spring 2024.

Is the judge’s decision open to appeal?

Yes, the ruling can be appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

What are the charges against Donald Trump in this case?

Trump pleaded not guilty in state court to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to hide reimbursements made to his attorney Michael Cohen. This is in connection to hush-money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Is Donald Trump facing any other legal charges?

Yes, separately, Trump is charged in federal court in Florida with illegally hoarding classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate and impeding investigators. Prosecutors want that case to go to trial in December.

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TinaFromNY July 20, 2023 - 3:43 am

As a New Yorker, I can say we aren’t afraid to tackle the tough cases. Let’s see where this leads…

KarenT July 20, 2023 - 5:43 am

Looks like Trump’s got a fight ahead of him. Interesting to see how this one plays out.

bobby77 July 20, 2023 - 7:03 am

So the case stays in NY. Good! let’s see him face the music, no more delays…

Jerry P. July 20, 2023 - 11:53 am

Wow, this thing just keeps dragging on, huh? I just hope we get to the truth in the end. The legal system sure moves slow…

Mike_2023 July 20, 2023 - 1:37 pm

I mean come on! Personal or not, actions have consequences. It’s high time to see justice done.

SusieQ July 20, 2023 - 1:37 pm

Well there you have it… Trump’s trying to switch courts, no surprise there. But the judge isn’t having it. Justice prevails!


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