When we last discussed the search warrant for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, Trump was flummoxed that his appointed judge had found probable cause to issue the warrant. So he went to a different judge that he had appointed (Judge Cannon) to get an injunction against the use of the materials seized. His belief was that a Special Master should be appointed to review the seized items. The ultimate goal was to have some of the items returned to him and to have others taken from investigators for a number of inconsistent and mutually exclusive reasons.
Trump’s lawyers and the Department of Justice both proposed two names to be the Special Master, with the DOJ eventually agreeing to one of Trump’s proposed Special Masters, Judge Raymond Dearie.
In Cannon’s appointment of Judge Dearie, she also set the rules for his review of the items seized in the warrant. She said he was to review everything but that the DOJ could continue, for classification purposes only, the review of approximately 100 documents with top secret or similar markings. The DOJ was prohibited from using the materials for any other purposes, including the continuation of their criminal investigation.
It was clear to the DOJ that Trump’s goal in having a Special Master appointed was to delay and obfuscate the proceedings as long as possible and to throw in as many objections as possible. So they had a choice. They could either sit back and wait for Judge Dearie to complete his review (which could take months) or to appeal Judge Cannon’s order to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The cynical among us would first look at the composition of the 11th Circuit. In all likelihood, they would be Trump-appointed judges. The DOJ decided to appeal but did so in a brilliant manner. They could have appealed the appointment of a Special Master, but the 11th Circuit could very well deny that appeal on the grounds that Judge Cannon was simply exercising judicial discretion.
Instead, the DOJ focused on a singular issue – the national security interest in protecting top secret documents and in taking prompt and prudent action to make sure that (1) our national security was not compromised and (2) any criminal activity related to those documents was vigorously pursued.
It came as no surprise that the three-judge panel hearing the DOJ appeal had two members appointed by Trump. That mattered not. It took the court mere days to rule, unanimously, that the DOJ was correct in its analysis. Their decision reversing Judge Cannon was as brutal a rebuke as you will ever see from a court. Typically, a court will say that the judge “erred” in her analysis. This court said that she had “abused her discretion.” This is the judicial equivalent of asking “Are you kidding me????” There are four legal standards that Judge Cannon was supposed to meet to justify her order. The 11th Circuit found that she was wrong ON ALL FOUR.
Within 18 hours of the 11th Circuit decision, Judge Cannon “amended” her previous order, giving the DOJ full authority to use those 100 documents for criminal investigation purposes.
Special Master Judge Dearie, who is highly respected jurist, was in the unenviable position of sitting in the middle of this ping pong match. He had been dutifully following Judge Cannon’s directives, but when the 11th Circuit ruling came down, his marching orders changed in an instant.
Judge Dearie has adopted a no-nonsense approach. He hired another judge to help expedite the review of the materials (at $500/hour with the cost to be paid by Trump). He also gave Trump’s attorneys one week to decide whether Trump would argue, under oath, the various claims he has been promoting on Truth Social and his favorite talk shows. This is the judicial equivalent of “put up or shut up.” The smart money is not on “put up.”
This would be the end of my post were it not for something I have never seen before. Decisions of appellate courts are often quoted in later cases as a matter of establishing the credibility of those rulings. It is typically months, if not years, before a decision is quoted.
The 11th Circuit decision was quoted in, get this, 17 hours!
Mike Lindell, the My Pillow guy, had his phone taken by the FBI at a Wendy’s drive-through. He argued that he should get it back. Forget for the moment that his legal argument was poorly constructed. What was notable was that the court denied his request, quoting the 11th Circuit.
I’ve had cases where the judge has asked whether I had any more recent case authority to support my position. That was probably not an issue here.