Like other presidents before and after him, Bill Clinton appointed a number of judges to federal courts during his tenure in the White House. One of them was Donald Middlebrooks, who has served on the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida for more than two decades.
That fact is not reason enough for Middlebrooks to recuse himself from hearing Trump’s trial against his 2016 presidential nemesis, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the judge said Wednesday.
Middlebrooks rejected a motion Trump filed Monday in which he said his role as judge in the case “amounts to prejudice so virulent or pervasive as to constitute bias against one party.”
The judge also took note of Trump’s apparent attempt to bring a civil suit in a court whose judge was one of his delegates: “I note that the plaintiff filed this lawsuit in the Division of Fort Pierce of this district, where only one federal judge sits: Judge Aileen Cannon, whom the plaintiff appointed in 2020. Despite the odds, this case landed with me instead.And when the plaintiff is a litigant before a judge that he named himself, he doesn’t tend to advance those same kinds of bias concerns.”
Trump filed a lawsuit against Hillary Clinton last month, alleging she was engaged in a scheme to rig the 2016 presidential election that Trump won. Clinton was guilty of “racketeering”, according to the prosecution, in connection with a conspiracy that made Watergate “pale in comparison”.
“The defendants, blinded by political ambition, orchestrated a malicious conspiracy to disseminate patently false and damaging information about Donald J. Trump and his campaign, all in the hope of destroying his life, his political career and rigging the 2016 presidential election in favor of Hillary Clinton,” Trump said in the lawsuit.
Middlebrooks said the appearance of impartiality was crucial to the judiciary, but laid out all the reasons he didn’t fit the disqualification bill in a five-page brief citing “well-established” law. Federal law states that judges must disqualify themselves “in any proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
“I have never met or spoken with Bill or Hillary Clinton,” Middlebrooks wrote in her response. “Apart from my nomination by Bill Clinton, I did not and never had a relationship with the Clintons.”
Moreover, the past cases cited by Trump to support his motion “do not appear to support his arguments,” the judge said.
“When I became a federal judge, I took an oath to ‘ discharge and perform all my duties faithfully and impartially.’ …under the Constitution and laws of the United States. I have done so for the past twenty-five years, and this case will be no different,” he wrote.
Although the judiciary focuses on the idea of impartiality, Trump was fond of suggesting that the president who appoints a judge has special influence over that judge’s decisions. He was reprimanded by Chief Justice John Roberts in 2018 for complaining about a “Judge Obama” who spoke out against his administration.
“We don’t have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said at the time. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges who do their best to do an equal right to those who appear before them.”