By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Twice in her short tenure as a federal judge in South Florida, Aileen Cannon has drawn two of the most historic cases in American history, both involving the man who appointed her to the court, former President Donald Trump.
There are 25 active judges and senior judges on the federal bench in the Southern District of Florida. So, the odds of that happening are remote under the “blind random assignment” method the clerk’s office employs to choose presiding judges.
“The assignment schedule shall be designed to prevent any litigant from choosing the Judge to whom an action or proceeding is to be assigned, and all attorneys shall conscientiously refrain from attempting to vary this Local Rule,” according to the district’s internal operating procedures.
Court clerk Angela Noble, a graduate of the private New York Law School and a member of the Florida Bar, did not respond to Florida Bulldog’s request for comment. But in a story published Friday night, New York Times reporter Charlie Savage wrote that he asked Noble last fall whether Cannon’s involvement in Trump’s lawsuit meant she would automatically be assigned if any indictment against Trump was brought in the district.
“We do not assign related cases to the same judge. A related case will still be randomly assigned,” Noble replied by email.
Still, the court’s rules anticipate a number of reasons why assignments might be made in other ways – creating openings for possible manipulation. For example, the court’s stated desire is to reduce the “expense and inconvenience” to litigants and lawyers so operating rules limit assignments outside the division where they originated.
JUDGE CANNON UNLUCKY?
Trump’s case originated in the West Palm Beach division, and the rules say, “it is possible to limit case assignments to the originating division or an immediately contiguous division.” So the assignment of Cannon, who sits in the neighboring Fort Pierce division, would seem appropriate.
A duty magistrate is scheduled to preside at Miami’s Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. U.S. Courthouse when Trump makes his first appearance in federal court at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. The hearing is set to be conducted in the courtroom of Chief Judge Cecilia Altonaga.
Trump, then, apparently got lucky, drawing a judge who has ruled favorably for him before when he sought to slow or even derail the government’s investigation of him.
Or perhaps Judge Cannon was unlucky – catching the case that highlights for the nation once again her mortifying slap down by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals for her decision upholding Trump’s request to temporarily freeze the Justice Department’s investigation of files, including numerous classified records, seized from his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach last August.
It was that investigation that resulted in Trump’s indictment by a federal grand jury in Miami, the first against a former president. It was unsealed Friday by Chief Magistrate Torres.
The federal indictment includes 31 counts under the Espionage Act alleging Trump’s “willful retention of national defense information,” and additional single counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document or record, corruptly concealing a document or record, concealing a document in a federal investigation, operating a scheme to conceal a material fact, and making false statements and representations to the grand jury and the FBI.
Trump’s longtime aide and former White House valet, Waltine Nauta, was charged along with Trump with conspiracy, withholding and corruptly concealing a document or record, concealing a document in a federal investigation, involvement in a scheme to conceal and making false statements and representations to the FBI.
JUDGE CANNON’S ALL-EXPENSES PAID TRIP
Trump nominated Cannon, then 39, to her lifetime seat on the federal bench in May 2020 while she was an attorney in the appellate division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami. A member of the conservative Federalist Society who donated $100 to Ron DeSantis’s 2018 campaign for governor, she was confirmed by the Senate in November 2020 by a bipartisan majority, 56-21. Twelve Democrats joined in approving Cannon.
In September 2021, Cannon accepted an all-expenses paid trip – transportation, meals and hotel – to the posh Sage Lodge Resort & Spa in Pray, MT. to attend a six-day “colloquium seminar” held by George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia School of Law (Law and Economics Center), according to an annual financial disclosure Cannon filed on May 16, 2022. (Cannon incorrectly listed the name as George Madison University.) No other annual or periodic transaction disclosure reports by Cannon are listed on the federal court’s new online disclosure database.
The law school’s name was changed in Scalia’s honor after his death in 2016. The rebranding was “the result of a $30 million gift brokered by Leonard Leo, prime architect of a grand project then gathering force to transform the federal judiciary and further the legal imperatives of the right,” the New York Times has reported. Leo is vice president of the Federalist Society.
In recent years, GMU’s Scalia law school has come under fire as having been co-opted not only by Leo, but donations made by the conservative Koch brothers.
Judge Cannon reported she stayed at the Sage Lodge from September 26 through October 1, 2021. You can see the agenda here. She was not required to place a value on her Montana trip. But the Sage Lodge, located on the banks of the Yellowstone River about 30 miles north of the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, advertises its least expensive rooms to cost from $600 to more than $1,000 a night in September, plus daily “resort fees.”
“All Lodge rooms include one king or two queen beds, gas fireplace, walk-in shower, and a sitting area with a queen pullout sleeper sofa. Additionally, some rooms also include a free-standing soaking tub,” says the hotel’s website.
Cannon blanked out her spouses’s name on her financial disclosure form (and was not required to declare his income), but it is well known that she is married to Josh Lorence, who works as chief operating officer for celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s Charlotte, N.C. based Bobby’s Burgers restaurant chain.
Lorence’s Linked In profile, now removed, showed that he was a BurgerFI restaurant manager when the couple married in June 2008, working his way up to chief development officer and, by 2014, COO.
According to Lorence’s biography on Bobby Burger’s website, he joined Bobby’ Burgers Palace as an executive in 2015 and later became a co-founder of Bobby’s Burgers. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported he remained with BurgerFI until after December 2020.