OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
A legal expert has pointed to a potential “red flag” that could see a federal judge appointed by then-President Donald Trump taken off the government’s classified documents case against him.
Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, writing on her Substack page “Civil Discourse,” said that special counsel Jack Smith “made a smart strategic play” when he filed a motion late last month in U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon’s South Florida courtroom to have Trump’s trial date moved from August to December.
Under the Speedy Trial Act, the government has a 70-day timeframe from the arraignment date to prosecute the former president. The act allows for certain periods of “excludable time” and other delays that typically favor the defendant, Raw Story notes.
However, Trump’s legal team is expected to request additional delays, potentially aiming to extend the proceedings beyond the upcoming presidential election year, the outlet added.
“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword for Trump,” Vance noted on her page. “He could agree to the December date, which he won’t do, at least not without the intention of asking for a continuance as that date gets closer. If Trump objects to a December trial and asks for a date after the first of the year, the government will undoubtedly demand a ruling that he cannot use rallies, campaign events, and primary dates as an excuse for further delay.
“Since it would be entirely reasonable, under the government’s proposed schedule, to try the case in December, if Trump asks for additional leeway and the Court grants it, there is no reason it shouldn’t come with conditions that ensure the people get their right to a speedy trial,” she noted further.
According to court filings, prosecutors have contended that the case is straightforward and uncomplicated, involving only two defendants without any unique legal or factual complexities. Therefore, they are likely to further argue that there is limited justification for Trump to seek a delay in the trial that would extend into late 2024 or beyond.
“Unless Trump can identify one, it would be a red flag if the judge gave Trump preferential treatment, in terms of continuing to delay proceedings while campaigning, that other defendants can’t receive,” Vance wrote.
As part of the discovery process, the government has promptly provided non-classified evidence to defense attorneys. Therefore, any approval of a trial delay by Cannon could draw attention and scrutiny.
“There’s no legitimate reason for an extended delay before trial and certainly no reason to delay it until after the 2024 election, more than a year off,” Vance noted in her assessment. “A ruling to that effect from Judge Cannon would likely provoke renewed concern about her ability to handle the case in a fair and unbiased way.
“Expect Trump to make the motion, but a decision by the judge to move the trial that far off would be unprecedented,” she added.
Even without special treatment from Cannon, Trump’s trial venue in Florida works to his advantage.
Not only did he win the state in both the 2016 and 2020 elections, a new report detailed how the jury pool will come primarily from counties that he handily won in both elections.
The judge has signaled that the trial would take place in Fort Pierce, the federal courthouse where she usually sits, at the northern end of the Southern District of Florida.
A separate report from the New York Times notes that the region has one swing county and four solid red ones. But that said, Cannon did leave open the possibility that the case could be moved. If the case remains in Fort Pierce, that will bode well for Trump when it comes time to select a jury.