On Wednesday, a federal judge nominated to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1996 flatly rejected Donald Trump’s demand that he recuse himself from Trump’s massive lawsuit against Hillary Clinton, claiming that there is no legal basis for such a demand.
Judge Donald Middlebrooks stated in a five-page decision that he had never met any of the Clintons and was confirmed by unanimous consent in the Senate, which required support from both parties.
Middlebrooks noted, “Every federal judge is nominated by a president who is linked with a major political party, and hence every federal judge may theoretically be considered as indebted, to some extent or another.” “As judges, we must all be able to rise beyond politics.”
Middlebrooks also noted that he was appointed by Florida’s bipartisan Senate delegation at the time, which included Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and Republican Sen. Connie Mack.
All judges, according to Middlebrooks, take an oath to faithfully interpret the law, which requires them to prioritize that mission over political politics. “I have done so for the last twenty-five years, and this case will be no different,” he wrote as he denied Trump’s lawyers’ request for recusal just two days earlier.
Middlebrooks pointed out that Trump filed his complaint in the Southern District of Florida’s Fort Pierce division, and that the only District Court judge in that division is a Trump appointment.
The case was eventually assigned to Middlebrooks, who is based in West Palm Beach, due to the court’s docketing mechanism.
“Despite the odds, this case landed with me instead,” Middlebrooks said, implying that Trump’s legal team was judge-shopping, looking for a judge who would be sympathetic to the case.
He also cited an appeals court decision that stated that recusal requests are “sometimes driven more by litigation strategy than by ethical concerns.”
When his legal troubles fell in front of judges he appointed to the bench, Trump never seemed to have those ethical qualms, according to Middlebrooks.
“When Plaintiff is a plaintiff before a judge whom he himself appointed,” Middlebrooks wrote, citing two of Trump’s failed attempts to reverse the 2020 election and the House Ways and Means Committee’s legal battle to acquire Trump’s tax returns from the IRS.
Judges Brett Ludwig, Stephanos Bibas, and Trevor McFadden — all Trump appointments — sat over those cases without Trump’s legal team raising any concerns about impartiality.
According to the operational norms of the south Florida court, it strives to make it impossible for litigants to choose their judge, and counsel should not try to do so.
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“The assignment schedule shall be designed to prohibit any plaintiff from selecting the Judge to whom an action or process will be assigned,” the policy states, “and all attorneys shall conscientiously refrain from attempting to vary this Local Rule.”
The decision comes as part of Trump’s massive lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, as well as members of the Justice Department and political figures,
whom he claims conspired against him to launch a bogus FBI investigation into possible collusion between his 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.
According to the lawsuit, the defendants’ activities amounted to a racketeering conspiracy, and Trump is entitled to millions of dollars in damages.
Although the defendants have yet to file significant answers to the case, several have mocked it.
Alina Habba, a Trump lawyer in New Jersey, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.