Judge Reverses Decision on Motion in Trump Federal Election Case After Defense Says She Broke Court Rules

Federal District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is presiding over the election interference case against former President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., revoked an earlier approval of a motion after lawyers representing President Trump said court rules were not followed.

On Sept. 5, prosecutors on special counsel Jack Smith’s team asked the judge to allow documents to be filed under seal but allow redacted versions of the documents on the public docket. That is routine in cases that may involve classified or otherwise sensitive information.

Judge Chutkan approved the motion

Shortly after, President Trump’s lawyers asked the judge to reverse the approval because they weren’t given a chance to respond to the initial motion (pdf).

It pointed out that the rules for D.C. federal criminal courts give the opposing party two weeks to respond to motions unless the judge decides to provide different deadlines. The judge, however, can’t deny the other party a chance to respond altogether.

“This procedure is further required by the Due Process clause [of the Constitution] and fundamental fairness,” the lawyers wrote.

“Thus, as a matter of course, the Court should allow Defendant sufficient time to respond to every motion filed in this matter.”

Later that day, the prosecutors responded, saying the judge acted appropriately because they reached out to the defense lawyers to get their position on the motion and because the motion was done in accordance with a protective order the judge issued previously that guides the handling of sensitive information in the case (pdf).

They said that if the defense is always given two weeks to respond and the prosecutors another week to respond to the response, as the local rules suggest, it “would grind litigation in this case to a halt.”

Yet on the same day, the judge did vacate her order, giving President Trump until Sept. 11 to respond and the prosecutors two more days to respond to the response.

“Going forward, all motions … must (1) indicate whether the movant has conferred with opposing counsel, and (2) state the nonmovant’s position on the motion, if known,” she added.

“As it has done here, the court may require briefing on motions for leave to file under seal on a timeline shorter than the default periods provided for in the Local Criminal Rules.”

The back-and-forth is more evidence of how contentious the issue of time has become in the case.

President Trump may have an interest in delaying the case beyond the 2024 presidential election, in which he’s the GOP front-runner. His opponents, on the other hand, may want to see him on trial in the middle of his campaign.

The case was brought by Mr. Smith on Aug. 1, alleging that President Trump didn’t genuinely believe that the 2020 election was stolen from him and that his attempts to challenge the results constituted several crimes, including conspiracy to obstruct the collection and counting of electoral votes and conspiracy against Americans’ right to vote.

Mr. Smith asked for the trial to begin with jury selection on Dec. 11, repeatedly arguing that the case needs to be handled promptly because President Trump’s public comments may prejudice the jury.

President Trump’s lawyers have argued that they need years to prepare for the trial in order to review the nearly 13 million documents and files handed to them by the prosecutors as part of the discovery process.

The judge set the trial for March 4, 2024, one day before the “Super Tuesday” slew of primaries in 16 states.

Petr Svab
Author (reporter)

Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.