Hush-Money Judge Bench-Slaps Trump Lawyers on First Trial Day

It took New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan four hours on Monday to dispense with pretrial matters before starting jury selection in Donald Trump’s Manhattan hush-money trial.

In that time — and as an international press corps watched and took notes — Trump’s lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, was rebuked at least five times for his lawyering.

Merchan didn’t call out Blanche as often as a federal judge in Manhattan rebuked Alina Habba, Trump’s attorney in the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial, where Judge Lewis Kaplan bench-slapped Habba 14 times during a single day of testimony.

Still, it was a bit brutal. And it’s not the first time a judge has taken Blanche to task, either.

Like the prosecutors, Merchan may be getting weary of Trump’s nearly 12 trial-delay attempts and what Joshua Steinglass, one of the prosecutors, called the defense team’s “thousands and thousands of pages of frivolous motions.”

Here, in chronological order, are five of Merchan’s burns — ranging from minor to scorching to merely comical — that would be enough to make any lawyer blanch.

1. “I’ve noticed that the font has been getting increasingly smaller.

On March 8, Merchan, in an attempt to rein in pretrial motions, said that the parties needed to ask his permission before filing any new motions by submitting what he called a “pre-motion letter.”

These pre-motion letters were to be only a single page long.

In a minor, humorous burn on Monday, the judge noted that the defense had kept to the one-page limit, but they did so at the cost of legibility.

“I think that Mr. Blanche is clear now that a pre-motion letter is one page,” Merchan said. (Blanche’s first pre-motion letter had been filed with a 51-page motion and 214 pages of exhibits attached).

“But I notice that the font has been getting increasingly smaller” and the margins increasingly smaller, the judge noted.

2. “Well, I don’t know how you managed to get all those motions filed then.”  

Later in the morning, the parties argued over trial exhibits. The defense had still not told prosecutors what exhibits they planned to show jurors at trial.

“Amazingly, we have yet to receive a single designated exhibit” from the defense, Steinglass complained.

When Blanche countered that the defense had just been too busy, Merchan hit him pretty hard.

“Here’s where we stand,” Merchan told the lawyer. “You have 24 hours, and whatever you do not identify within 24 hours, you will be precluded from introducing, frivolous or not.”

But the judge agreed that the defense had indeed been busy.

“The defense team was very busy actively filing numerous motions, some of which were really motions to renew and reargue decisions that this court had already made,” Merchan said.

Trump’s team had also dragged prosecutors to an appellate court for three days last week to argue more unsuccessful motions to delay the trial.

“So you have made decisions regarding how you are going to use your time, and that’s fine,” the judge told Blanche. “That’s your decision to make. You have 24 hours.

“Whatever is not received by the people in 24 hours will be precluded,” he added. “Period.”

Blanche continued to protest.

“We’re expected to comply while we’re in court the rest of the day, and all day tomorrow?” he said of the 24-hour deadline.

“Well, I don’t know how you managed to get all those motions out,” the judge snapped back.

“Literally, one Sunday you got three pre-motion letters to me with exhibits and attachments,” all filed within 30 minutes, the judge added.

“The way you choose to use your time is your business. My order was clear. You are directed to do it, and you are directed to do it immediately,” Merchan said of the missing exhibits list.

Donald Trump at his hush-money arraignment with attorneys Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles.

Donald Trump at his hush-money arraignment with attorneys Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles.

Reuters/Timothy A. Clary

3. “Please direct me to the portion of the original gag order, or the subsequent gag order, where it makes any exception if Mr. Trump feels he is under attack. I don’t recall inserting that anywhere in either gag order.”

Prosecutors on Monday also accused Trump of violating his gag order by targeting two key witnesses, Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels, in a trio of attacks on Truth Social that the former president posted earlier in April.

Trump published a fourth Truth Social post, attacking both Daniels and Cohen, that morning at 9:12 a.m., the prosecutor Chris Conroy complained to the judge.

“It’s entirely possible that it was done from this courthouse,” Conroy added.

Blanche countered that Trump has little choice but to strike back against Daniels and Cohen, who he said had issued a “barrage of attacks” against the former president.

“The two witnesses themselves have been talking about their testimony in this case, President Trump’s ongoing reelection, and just generally making disparaging threats constantly,” Blanche said.

The judge told Blanche to file a response, in writing, explaining why Trump should not be held in contempt for violating the gag order.

“When you respond,” the judge said, “direct me to any portion of the original gag order or the subsequent gag order that says that there is an exception to the gag order if Mr. Trump feels if he is being attacked.”

The judge paused and added with a hint of sarcasm: “I don’t recall inserting that anywhere in either gag order.”

4. “Counsel, it’s important to keep breaks at a given time.”

Later in the day, outside the presence of prospective jurors, Merchan chided Trump’s lawyers for being slow to return to court after their afternoon break.

“Counsel, it’s important to keep breaks at the given time to keep things moving,” Merchan told Blanche.

“Yes, your honor,” Blanche replied.

“We can get the jury so we can keep moving,” Merchan said.

Donald Trump court

Donald Trump was in court with members of his legal team, Todd Blanche, left, and Emil Bove, on Monday

Jabin Botsford-Pool/Getty Images

5. “You don’t think he should be here at all right now?”

Before court wrapped for the day without a single juror being selected, Blanche made another request of the judge.

He asked if Trump could take off next Thursday to attend the US Supreme Court hearing in another one of his criminal cases.

The justices are set to hear arguments over the former president’s sweeping claims of immunity that he says protect him from charges related to the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, brought by the Justice Department’s special counsel Jack Smith.

The April 25 Supreme Court date was set in early March, but Trump’s lawyers didn’t raise the issue until Monday.

Steinglass, one of the prosecutors, said that Trump, like all criminal defendants, should be required to be present in court for the New York trial.

“I think we’ve accommodated the defense enough already,” Steinglass said.

Merchan acknowledged that “arguing in front of the Supreme Court is a big deal,” but “convening a jury of 12 jurors and six alternates is also a big deal.”

Blanche protested, saying that the litany of criminal cases against Trump made his situation “incredibly unusual,” and suggested Trump shouldn’t “be here at all right now.”

“You don’t think he should be here at all right now?” Merchan asked.

Blanche replied that he didn’t think the trial should happen during “campaign season.”

“I have already ruled on that,” Merchan snapped. “Your client is a criminal defendant in New York County Supreme Court. He is required to be here. He is not required to be in the Supreme Court.”

Merchan shut down the request. “I will see him here next week,” he said.