The judge overseeing Trump's case donated $15 to Biden. Legal experts say it likely won't get him thrown off the case, but it'll 'feed the Trump PR beast.'

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  • The NY judge handling Donald Trump's criminal case made a $15 donation to President Joe Biden's campaign in 2020.

  • Legal experts told Insider that it likely won't get the judge thrown off the case.

  • But it will "feed the Trump PR beast" and doesn't bode well for public perception, the experts said.

The New York City judge handling Donald Trump's criminal "hush-money" case made a $15 donation to Joe Biden's presidential campaign in 2020, as well as other minor contributions to Democratic causes, federal election records show.

Legal experts told Insider on Friday that the political donations likely won't get New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan thrown off of Trump's case, but that it will "feed the Trump PR beast" and doesn't bode well for public perception.

"It is giving kerosene for Trump to throw on the fire of his overall argument that he is being persecuted as part of what he perceives to be some Democratic conspiracy to get Trump," said Mark Bederow, a criminal defense attorney and former Manhattan prosecutor.

Trump has slammed his historic indictment by a Manhattan grand jury on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records as "political persecution" and a "witch hunt."

The former president has even attacked Merchan as "Trump-hating" and "highly partisan" prior to the revelation of the political contributions. The judge has been facing death threats and harassment since Trump was indicted, Insider reported this week.

In addition to the $15 earmarked for "Biden for President" on July 26, 2020, Merchan made two separate $10 donations the next day — one earmarked for the voter contact organization Progressive Turnout Project and the other for Stop Republicans, an "accountability campaign" of the Progressive Turnout Project, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The donations were made through the Democratic platform ActBlue and Merchan listed his occupation as "judge" and his employer as the New York State Office of Court Administration, the FEC records show.

"The Trump people will pounce on that"

Trump arraignment
Former President Donald Trump appears in court for his arraignment, on April 4, 2023 in New York.(Steven Hirsch/New York Post via AP, Pool)

Defense attorney and former Brooklyn prosecutor Arthur Aidala called the donations "not a great look" for Merchan and specifically called the contribution to Stop Republicans "problematic."

"The judge presiding over the case of not only the most recent Republican president, but also the leading candidate to be the next Republican presidential nominee should not have on his resume 'contributor to Stop Republicans,'" Aidala said.

Aidala predicted that should Trump's legal team file a recusal motion, Merchan "will say he can be fair and impartial as a judge and a $15 donation is so minimal that it does not show any outright prejudice."

According to the code of Judicial Conduct within the New York state court system, judges are permitted to vote, but barred from "soliciting funds for, paying an assessment to, or making a contribution to a political organization or candidate."

"The code of Judicial Conduct says what it says and the Trump people will pounce on that," Bederow said, explaining that the "safest course of action" for Merchan may be for him to recuse himself from Trump's case.

Still, Bederow said, he does not believe Merchan — who also oversaw a previous tax fraud case against the Trump Organization — would be "forcibly removed from the case because it is so trivial."

"There has just been nothing to suggest from an evidentiary standpoint that the court has been unfair or biased," said Bederow.

Trump Manhattan
Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on April 4, 2023.REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

White-collar criminal defense attorney and former Manhattan prosecutor Jeremy Saland pointed out that Merchan's donation amounts are "fairly inconsequential."

"Maybe he is gently reminded that he should not make political donations, but the consequence of doing so should not preclude him from presiding over the case," Saland said.

Saland added, "A bad look? Yes, but in the realm of missteps, this is barely a stumble even if Trump will weaponize the donation."

Fordham Law professor Bruce Green, the director of the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, agreed that the donations should not be grounds for recusal.

"It can be assumed that judges are politically engaged and not obligated to be politically disengaged," Green said. "It's assumed that when they act as judges in cases they put aside their personal and political preferences and do justice according to the law."

Insider tried to reach Merchan through his courthouse chambers on Friday and was directed to New York's Office of Court Administration.

Court system spokesman Lucian Chalfen told Insider: "Should counsel for either the prosecution or defense have any issues or concerns as the case progresses, they are welcome to address them with the Court."

A spokesperson for Trump's 2024 presidential campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Read the original article on Business Insider