Trump-appointed judge in documents case had key decision reversed

By Luc Cohen

(Reuters) -Aileen Cannon, the Florida judge initially assigned to oversee Donald Trump’s classified documents case, made headlines last year when she decided in favor of the former U.S. president at a pivotal stage of the case and was later reversed on appeal.

A member of the conservative Federalist Society, Cannon had relatively little experience as a lawyer when nominated by Trump and confirmed in November 2020 to the federal bench by the U.S. Senate then led by Trump’s Republican Party.

An indictment was unsealed on Friday charging Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2024, with illegally retaining classified documents and obstructing justice. He has denied wrongdoing and called the investigation politically motivated.

After federal agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence last year in Palm Beach, Florida as part of their probe, Cannon was thrust into the spotlight when Trump’s lawyers asked her to halt the FBI’s review of records.

Cannon agreed with Trump’s lawyers that the FBI should not review the records until an independent third party scrutinized them for materials that could be covered by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege, legal doctrines that might shield some documents from disclosure.

The ruling was criticized by many legal observers, including William Barr, who served as attorney general under Trump.

An appeals court later overturned Cannon’s decision, siding with the U.S. Department of Justice in saying she lacked the authority to appoint a so-called special master to review them.

Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2024, was indicted on Thursday for illegally retaining classified documents and obstructing justice.

Cannon, born in 1981 in Cali, Colombia, appears set to oversee at least the initial stages of one of the most consequential legal cases in U.S. history. No U.S. president past or present has ever faced federal charges.

A 2007 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, Cannon was appointed to the bench around 12 years after first being admitted to practice law – the bare minimum level of experience the American Bar Association says nominees to the federal bench should have.

After graduating, she worked as a law clerk for an appellate judge in Iowa and then as an associate at the Gibson Dunn law firm in Washington, D.C. From 2013 until her appointment to the federal bench, she worked as a federal prosecutor in Fort Pierce, Florida.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub, Sarah N. Lynch, Luc Cohen and Jacquelyn Thomsen; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Howard Goller)