Former president Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida
Former president Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on April 4, 2023 AFP

Donald Trump's trial kicked off on Monday morning in New York, as he faces charges for falsifying his business records to disguise a hush-money payment made to Stormy Daniels, a former adult film star, shortly before the 2016 election. And although the proceedings began with jury selection, a process estimated to take around two weeks, many eyes were set on the man overseeing the trial: Judge Juan Merchán.

Merchán was called out by Trump last month as a "certified Trump-hater", with the former president also singling out the judge's daughter, Loren Merchán over her Democratic ties (last year Merchán rejected a request by Trump for the judge to recuse himself from the case due to his daughter's work). He wrote in his order that the court "has examined its conscience and is certain in its ability to be fair and impartial."

Merchán is already no stranger to dealing with Trump affairs. He presided over the Trump Organization tax fraud trial, sentenced the former president's close confidant Allen Weisselberg to prison and oversaw former Trump adviser Steve Bannon's criminal fraud case. But who exactly is the 61-year old judge?

Juan Merchán was born in Bogotá, Colombia. His family migrated to the U.S. when he was 6-years old, settling in the New York City neighborhood of Jackson Heights. He was the first of his family to go to college, receiving his law degree from Hofstra University.

He began his legal career in 1994 as a district attorney in the trial division of the Manhattan DAs Office before moving on to the State Attorney General's office several years later. In 2006, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Merchán to Family Court in the Bronx and by 2009 then-Governor David Paterson appointed him to the New York State Court of Claims, the same year he began serving as an acting New York Supreme Court judge.

According to a report by CNN, Merchán has been described as "a man of his word," a 'tough but compassionate judge" and a person who does not tolerate delays or disruptions and knows how to maintain control of the room.

Nicholas Gravante, the attorney who represented Trump confidant Allen Weissenberg in his tax fraud case, said of Merchán:

"Judge Merchan was efficient, practical, and listened carefully to what I had to say. He was always well-prepared, accessible, and – most importantly in the Weisselberg matter – a man of his word. He treated me and my colleagues with the utmost respect, both in open court and behind closed doors."

He will be under the spotlight over several weeks as the case dominates the public conversation, especially considering it will take place during a key part of the electoral year.

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