Dan Rodricks: “Reputation damage”? No official I know has ever had judicial deference from Trump

For my life, I can’t recall a federal judge ever worrying about the “reputational damage” of any of the many officials suspected of committing crimes in Maryland — or anywhere else. somewhere else.

There was a brief moment of sympathy offered by Judge Robert Love Taylor for the disgraceful situation the then-Governor was in. Marvin Mandel found himself in October 1977.

“I have a lot of sympathy for you,” Taylor said, in the southern accent he brought to Maryland from Tennessee for Mandel’s corruption trial. “You have a lot of good qualities. But I think you made some serious mistakes.

Taylor had come from Knoxville to preside because so many judges in Baltimore had conflicts over personal or political ties with Mandel. Taylor, a small, folksy judge, sentenced the governor to four years in prison. Mandel immediately resigned from his post. (His conviction was overturned a decade later.)

I should quickly add that Taylor’s sympathetic comments came at the time of sentencing – several weeks after a jury convicted Mandel of mail fraud and racketeering.

No such sympathy was expressed while Mandel was under investigation.

No such sympathy was expressed during Mandel’s trial.

In fact, such a thing, pronounced by any federal judge, would have been inappropriate.

More than that, it would have been outrageous.

Any judge who expressed concern about the “damage to the reputation” of a person under criminal investigation would never have been assigned to that person’s eventual trial. This judge could have been reprimanded or censured for misconduct or simply for bringing discredit to the judiciary.

Avoiding conflict, avoiding prejudicial statements – it shouldn’t be hard for an American to understand the critical importance of these things in criminal justice.

But, 45 years later, here in the upside down America, we have a federal judge in Florida. expressing concern for the “damage to reputation” done to Donald Trump by a federal investigation. Not only that, Judge Aileen M. Cannon of the Southern District of Florida ordered a halt to the investigation while a special-to-be-named-later master decides whether any of the sensitive documents seized from the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate falls into the category of “executive privileges.”

Surprising.

Even Bill Barr, who served as attorney general under Trump, doesn’t think he has any privilege to claim. “I don’t think a special master makes sense when it comes to executive privilege material,” Barr told Reuters. “If the documents are subject to executive privilege, they involve formal deliberations of executive actions and, by definition, such documents belong to the government.”

Until recently, I believed that federal judges were among the most untouchable jurists, whether appointed by Republican or Democratic presidents. It’s a generalization based on reporting mostly in Maryland — watching trials, listening to dozens of defense attorneys and prosecutors — since the days of the Mandel trial. It may be a limited sample, but it is one that has shaped my opinion of the federal judiciary.

Things have changed. Historically low public regard for the Supreme Court has taken years, as American right-wing politicians have piled the lower courts with conservative ideologues to help achieve judicially what they fail to achieve legislatively.

So today, I join the disillusioned who say only a Trump-appointed judge could make such a decision, showing outrageous deference to a man suspected of hoarding thousands of government documents despite demands for his return.

“damage to reputation”?

Is it even a legal consideration?

I don’t recall a federal judge stopping the “Healthy Holly” investigation of former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. In 2019, dozens of FBI and IRS agents searched his two homes and the town hall office. For my life, I can’t recall anyone worrying about “reputational damage” or a federal judge stepping in to stop the investigation to make sure the FBI and IRS didn’t were not confiscating foreign material – Pugh’s medical records or personal items unrelated to his fraudulent sales of “Healthy Holly” children’s books.

Same with former mayor Sheila Dixon several years earlier. One day in June 2008, prosecutors and police spent more than seven hours inside Dixon’s Hunting Ridge home and emerged with boxes and files. I don’t recall Dixon seeking an injunction to stop the investigation or a judge worrying about the “reputational damage” he might have caused.

Both Pugh and Dixon did wrong and paid the price.

That’s not the point, the point being the stomach-turning deference to Trump.

I do not see what is “extraordinary”, to use the term of the Florida judge, in the circumstances.

It’s extraordinary because Trump is the former president?

As Samuel Gerard, the Federal Marshal played by Tommy Lee Jones in “The Fugitive,” says when Dr. Richard Kimball, played by Harrison Ford, claims he didn’t kill his wife: “I don’t care. “

I don’t care if Trump is the former president.

Especially when it comes to the law. I’m a fan, as every American should be, of the motto above the Supreme Court’s entrance: “Equal justice before the law.”

I fail to see how the public can have or regain confidence in the criminal justice system when a judge at the federal level shows such obvious deference to the most daring liar, mob instigator and unrepentant scoundrel in the country. Judges are supposed to serve justice, not the men who appointed them.

“damage to reputation”?

The only reputation affected here is the reputation of the federal judiciary.

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