Leon R. Koziol, J.D.
Former New York Criminal Trial Attorney
President, Citizen Commission Against Corruption. Org
I have spent more than three decades litigating civil and criminal cases in both federal and state courts of New York. In my latter years as a targeted civil rights advocate, I developed a highly unique expertise in the disqualification of biased jurists who can easily alter outcomes at any stage of deliberations.
As a victim myself, I also developed a trial and appellate practice that is highly relevant to Donald Trump’s indictment. His team of defense attorneys must file a motion for recusal of his assigned judge, Juan Merchan, in a lower Manhattan court this Tuesday if he retains any hope of fair treatment there.
Here are the reasons as supported by my Law Review and News Alert released on March 17, 2023:
First, from a structural standpoint, Judge Merchan is a product of the antiquated judicial branch of government in New York. It features 11-trial courts that the state bar condemned in a 2017 report favoring a constitutional convention. That report compared it to California’s single trial court system.
Even if this structure proves to be inconsequential, it could harm or needlessly prolong a process that calls for earliest dismissal. It features interstate, federal-related issues that are “first impression” for any decision maker. We see that already in play with the negotiated dispensing of handcuffing protocols.
Second, Trump lawyers are duty-bound to scrutinize more than his assigned judge. A change of venue must be added for a court far removed from the highly biased climate of lower Manhattan. This borough is inundated with liberal ideology that could easily evade jury selection of the most skilled trial counsel.
Third, Judge Merchan was appointed to a limited jurisdiction family court by New York’s mayor in 2006 after only ten years of practice, all in prosecutor offices. He was assigned due to his “acting” role in a court of general jurisdiction (not the usual city court) for the likely reason that this case would require it.
Fourth, Judge Merchan is impaired by his prior assignment to the Trump Organization criminal case concluded with convictions and a jail sentence. Its chief executive officer here cannot reverse adverse impressions acquired from its witnesses. As the saying goes, you cannot put the horses back in the barn.
Fifth, local practitioners are already singing Merchan’s praises including Trump critic Gloria Allred. To put a reality face to this, lawyers in my personal case chastised a similar motion against Bryan Hedges as a “judge beyond reproach” until he admitted to sexual abuse of his handy-capped five-year-old niece.
Fortunately Judge Hedges granted my motion prior to being banned from the bench and before any parentless hearing with my young daughters in chambers. It was based on party politics, a court clerk’s successful harassment case, and an ethics rule prohibiting even the “appearance of impropriety.”
Surely there is enough in the Trump record already to win such a motion, forcing Judge Merchan into an unenviable position on this opening issue of due process. No one can know what he might harbor as my proceedings have shown after forty judges were compelled to step down, many for undisclosed reasons.
But perhaps most satisfying for this unprecedented defendant is that he could seize some semblance of retribution generally after his charges are read during an open court spectacle. This recusal motion must be stately presented for that reason alone if his lawyers retain any respect for their client’s dignity.
Leon R. Koziol, J.D. is a former city corporation counsel, school board attorney and elected office holder in upstate New York who still litigates in Manhattan. His horrific ordeal as a corruption whistleblower and court reformist is detailed in a recently published memoir, Whistleblower in Paris.
Mr. Koziol can be contacted directly at (315) 796-4000 and electronically at email@example.com.