Former US president Donald Trump is set to appear before acting New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan on Tuesday. Merchan has already sentenced Trump ally Allen Weisselberg to prison, presided over the Trump Organization tax fraud trial and oversaw former adviser Steve Bannon’s criminal fraud case. Trump’s arraignment will be Merchan’s most high-profile case to date, despite his long-standing position atop the state-level trial court. Merchan has been described as a “tough” judge who is fair to anyone who appears before him, and was responsible for the creation of the Manhattan Mental Health Court, where he is known for compassionate judgments that offer second chances to defendants. The judge was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, and was the first in his family to go to college, before obtaining his law degree from Hofstra University. Merchan launched his legal career as an assistant district attorney in the trial division of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in 1994.
Attorney Timothy Parlatore, who represented Donald Trump, stated during an interview that when he tried a case before Merchan, the judge was “not easy” on him. However, he echoed the sentiment that the judge would likely be fair. Despite his reputation as a “tough” judge, Merchan has also been described as compassionate, presiding over the Manhattan Mental Health Court, where he often issues judgments that offer defendants second chances. However, some have argued that he tends to side with prosecutors. In addition to the Trump cases he was involved with, Merchan also handed down a 25-year-to-life sentence in a murder case.
Trump and his supporters have already expressed criticism and conspiracy theories around Merchan and the indictment, but attorneys who have appeared before him have spoken highly of the judge. When he sentenced Weisselberg, Merchan stated that he would have handed down a much greater sentence if Weisselberg had not already been promised a five-month sentence. Nicholas Gravante, the attorney who represented Weisselberg in his plea, described Merchan as a “man of his word” and said that the judge always treated him and his colleagues with respect. Earl Ward, a trial attorney and chair of public defender nonprofit The Bronx Defenders, has stated that he has seen Merchan preside over cases in the Mental Health Court and often side with prosecutors.