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Manhattan DA's office won't be punished for document dump that delayed start of Trump criminal trial

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Manhattan DA's office won't be punished for document dump that delayed start of Trump criminal trial
News

News

Manhattan DA's office won't be punished for document dump that delayed start of Trump criminal trial

2024-05-24 08:52 Last Updated At:09:02

NEW YORK (AP) — Manhattan prosecutors won't be penalized for a last-minute document dump that caused former President Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial to start later than scheduled, a judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Juan M. Merchan rejected the defense’s request that prosecutors be sanctioned for a deluge of nearly 200,000 pages of evidence just weeks before the trial‘s scheduled start. The documents were from a previous federal investigation into the matter.

Merchan agreed to delay the start of the trial from March 25 to April 15 to allow the former president’s lawyers to review the material. But at a hearing in March, he rejected their claim that the case had been tainted by prosecutorial misconduct, and denied their bid to delay the case longer, throw it out entirely or bar key prosecution witnesses Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels from testifying.

In a written ruling issued Thursday, Merchan reiterated that Trump didn't suffer any prejudice from the document dump because he and his lawyers were “given a reasonable amount of time to prepare and respond to the material.”

Merchan said he reached the conclusion after reviewing written submissions by both sides, including timelines they provided to him chronicling the disclosure of evidence, as well arguments and clarifications that were made at the March 25 hearing on the issue.

The Manhattan district attorney's office declined comment on the ruling. A message seeking comment was left with Trump’s lawyers.

After testimony from 22 witnesses over the last month, including Cohen and Daniels, the first criminal trial of a former president is slated to move to closing arguments next Tuesday, with jury deliberations expected to follow as early as Wednesday.

Trump’s lawyers had accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office of intentionally failing to pursue evidence from the 2018 federal investigation, which sent Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen to prison.

They contended prosecutors working under Bragg, a Democrat, did so to gain an unfair advantage in the case and harm Trump’s election chances. Cohen, now a vocal Trump critic, was a key prosecution witness against his ex-boss.

At the March 25 hearing, Merchan said the DA’s office had no duty to collect evidence from the federal investigation, nor was the U.S. attorney’s office required to volunteer the documents. What transpired was a “far cry” from Manhattan prosecutors “injecting themselves in the process and vehemently and aggressively trying to obstruct your ability to get documentation,” the judge said.

“It’s just not what happened,” Merchan said.

The DA’s office denied wrongdoing and blamed Trump’s lawyers for waiting until Jan. 18 to subpoena the records from the U.S. attorney’s office — a mere nine weeks before the trial was originally supposed to start. Merchan told defense lawyers they should have acted sooner if they believed they didn’t have all the records they wanted.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges that he falsified business records by falsely logging payments to Cohen, then his personal lawyer, as legal fees in his company’s books when they were reimbursements for a $130,000 hush money payment he made to Daniels. Manhattan prosecutors say Trump did it as part of an effort to protect his 2016 campaign by burying what he says were false stories of extramarital sex.

Trump’s lawyers say the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses, not cover-up checks. Trump denies having sex with Daniels.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance violations related to the Daniels payoff. He said Trump directed him to arrange it, and federal prosecutors indicated they believed him, but Trump was never charged.

In this courtroom sketch, former President Donald Trump's defense attorney Emil Bove, left, and assistant district attorney Matthew Colangelo, right, argue various points on the jury charge to Judge Juan Merchan, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Manhattan criminal court in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

In this courtroom sketch, former President Donald Trump's defense attorney Emil Bove, left, and assistant district attorney Matthew Colangelo, right, argue various points on the jury charge to Judge Juan Merchan, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Manhattan criminal court in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

COLOMA, Calif. (AP) — In a tiny town where the California gold rush began, Black families are seeking restitution for land that was taken from their ancestors to make way for a state park now frequented by fourth graders learning about the state's history.

Their efforts in Coloma, a town of around 300 people that’s located about 36 miles (58 kilometers) northeast of Sacramento, are one of the latest examples of Black Americans urging the government to atone for practices that have kept them from thriving long after chattel slavery was abolished.

Debates over reparations for African Americans often come back to land. That was at the center of a promise originally made — and later broken — by the U.S. government to formerly enslaved Black people in the mid-1800s: Give them up to 40 acres (16 hectares) of land as restitution for their time enslaved. For some, the promise of reparations has been nothing more than Fool’s gold, epitomized by a bill in Congress that’s stalled since it was first introduced in the 1980s, even though it’s aimed at studying reparations and named after the original promise.

The fight in Coloma is taking place in a state where the governor signed a first-in-the-nation law to study reparations. But advocates are pushing for the state to go further.

Gold was found near Coloma in 1848 by James W. Marshall, a white carpenter, setting off the California gold rush that saw hundreds of thousands of people from across the nation and outside of the U.S. come — or be brought — to the state. Those who migrated included white, Asian, and free and enslaved Black people.

Decades later, Black and white families had their land taken by the government in the town before it was turned into the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, which opened in 1942. The park today is home to a museum, churches and cemeteries where residents were buried. A nearly 42-foot (13-meter) monument of Marshall stands on its grounds.

But the history of Black families who settled in Coloma only recently started getting increased recognition. California State Parks launched an initiative in 2020 to reexamine its past and to tell “a more thorough, inclusive, and complete history” of California, department spokesperson Adeline Yee said in an email to The Associated Press. The department created a webpage with information about properties owned by Black families at the park in Coloma.

Elmer Fonza, a retiree who worked at a brewery in California before eventually relocating to Nevada, said he is the third-great grandson of Nelson Bell, a formerly enslaved Black man from Virginia who became a property owner in Coloma.

After Bell’s death in 1869, a judge determined he had no heirs in the state, and his estate was sold at an auction, according to a probate document shared by the El Dorado County Historical Museum.

It is unclear what happened to Bell’s property in the years that followed, Fonza said, adding that the land should be returned to his family.

“We rightfully believe that we have been denied the generational wealth that our family may have been entitled to if given our rightful inheritance — the land once owned by Nelson Bell,” he said at the final meeting of a first-in-the-nation state reparations task force.

Nancy Gooch, a Black woman, was brought to Coloma from the South in 1849 by a white man who enslaved her and her husband. Gooch was soon freed when California became a state and worked as a cook and cleaned laundry for miners. She later brought her son, Andrew Monroe, from Missouri to join them in the town. The Monroe-Gooch family would become one of the most prosperous Black landowners in California.

“We have to bring forth the truth, because that’s reconciliation,” said Jonathan Burgess, a Sacramento resident who co-owns a barbecue catering business, and who also is claiming land in Coloma was that of his descendants. “And then once we bring forth the truth, which I’ve been doing in speaking the whole time, we’ve got to make it right.”

Making it right would mean compensating families for land that can’t be returned or returning property where possible, Burgess said in an interview at the park. He said he is descended from Rufus Morgan Burgess, a Black writer who was brought to Coloma with his father, who was enslaved.

Jonathan Burgess also said his family is descended from Bell, but the Fonza and Burgess families say they are not related to each other. The discrepancy highlights the difficult work that could be ahead for Black residents if California ever passes reparations legislation requiring families to document their lineage.

Cheryl Austin, a retiree living in Sacramento, said she is an heir of John A. Wilson and Phoebe Wilson, a free, married Black couple who came to Coloma during the late 1850s. After John and Phoebe Wilson died, their property was sold through probate, Austin said. The state must somehow repair harm done to families whose property was seized, she said.

The restitution fight in California comes as lawmakers are weighing reparations proposals in the state Legislature. That includes a bill to create the California American Freedmen Affairs Agency, which would help Black residents research their family lineage. Another proposal would make any families whose land was seized unjustly by the government due to racially discriminatory motives entitled to the return of the property or compensation.

The legislation, which is expected to be voted on this summer, reflects a growing push for restitution by Black families targeting the misuse of a practice known as eminent domain, where the government must pay people fairly for property it plans to make available for public use. The issue garnered attention across the state when local officials in Los Angeles County returned a beachfront property in 2022 to a Black couple, nearly a century after it was taken by the government from their ancestors.

Earlier this month, California marked a milestone when Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom included $12 million in the state's 2024 budget to spend on reparations legislation. But the budget does not specify what the money would be used for, and estimates from the state say the bills could cost millions of dollars annually.

State Sen. Steven Bradford, a Los Angeles-area Democrat who authored the proposals, said they will help the state atone for taken land, adding that land ownership is critical to building general wealth.

“Reparations was never about a check,” Bradford said. “It was about land.”

Associated Press photographer Godofredo A. Vásquez contributed to this report.

Austin is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin on X: @sophieadanna

Descendants from Nelson Bell, relatives from left: brothers, Milford Fonza and Elmer Fonza, Trent Mure, and William Woolery pose for a picture at the tombstone of Nelson Bell (1790-1869) at the Pioneer Cemetery in Coloma, El Dorado County, Calif., on June 2023. (Elmer Fonza Family Photo via AP)

Descendants from Nelson Bell, relatives from left: brothers, Milford Fonza and Elmer Fonza, Trent Mure, and William Woolery pose for a picture at the tombstone of Nelson Bell (1790-1869) at the Pioneer Cemetery in Coloma, El Dorado County, Calif., on June 2023. (Elmer Fonza Family Photo via AP)

Descendants of Nelson Bell, brothers Milford Fonza, front left, and Elmer Fonza, front right, surrounded by extended family members, show their ancestors' pictures in Glendora, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Family members standing from left: Trent Mure, with son Armani Mure, and his wife Tami Mure, William Woolery, Louie Hobbs and Carolyn Fonza. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Descendants of Nelson Bell, brothers Milford Fonza, front left, and Elmer Fonza, front right, surrounded by extended family members, show their ancestors' pictures in Glendora, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Family members standing from left: Trent Mure, with son Armani Mure, and his wife Tami Mure, William Woolery, Louie Hobbs and Carolyn Fonza. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Descendants of Nelson Bell, Milford Fonza, left, and his brother, Elmer Fonza pose for a picture at Milford's home in Glendora, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Bell was a black gold miner and land owner who lived in Coloma, Calif., from 1850 until his death in 1869. The land once owned by Bell is now part of a California State Park. They believe that we have been denied the generational wealth that their family may have been entitled to if given our rightful inheritance, the land once owned by Nelson Bell. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Descendants of Nelson Bell, Milford Fonza, left, and his brother, Elmer Fonza pose for a picture at Milford's home in Glendora, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Bell was a black gold miner and land owner who lived in Coloma, Calif., from 1850 until his death in 1869. The land once owned by Bell is now part of a California State Park. They believe that we have been denied the generational wealth that their family may have been entitled to if given our rightful inheritance, the land once owned by Nelson Bell. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Descendants of Nelson Bell, from left: Tami More, with husband Trent Mure, and son, Armani, William Woolery, Louie Hoops and brothers, Milford Fonza, sitting center, and Elmer Fonza with wife, Carolyn, pose for a picture in Glendora, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Descendants of Nelson Bell, from left: Tami More, with husband Trent Mure, and son, Armani, William Woolery, Louie Hoops and brothers, Milford Fonza, sitting center, and Elmer Fonza with wife, Carolyn, pose for a picture in Glendora, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

People walk through Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

People walk through Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

A girl rides a bicycle on a trail at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

A girl rides a bicycle on a trail at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Descendants of Nelson Bell, relatives from left, William Woolery, Trent Mure, and brothers, Milford Fonza and Elmer Fonza, far right, gather around a picture of their ancestor Ethel Bell while showing family pictures in Glendora, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Descendants of Nelson Bell, relatives from left, William Woolery, Trent Mure, and brothers, Milford Fonza and Elmer Fonza, far right, gather around a picture of their ancestor Ethel Bell while showing family pictures in Glendora, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The present-day Grange Hall, center, is seen as school children, foreground, visit Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

The present-day Grange Hall, center, is seen as school children, foreground, visit Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Family heirlooms are seen inside Matthew Burgess' home Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Family heirlooms are seen inside Matthew Burgess' home Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

The South Fork of American River flows alongside Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

The South Fork of American River flows alongside Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Emmanuel Church remains at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Emmanuel Church remains at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

A tombstone for ancestors of the Burgess family is seen at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park cemetery Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

A tombstone for ancestors of the Burgess family is seen at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park cemetery Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Children visit Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Children visit Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

People cross Mt. Murphy Road Bridge into the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

People cross Mt. Murphy Road Bridge into the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Coloma, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Matthew Burgess holds a photograph of his grandfather Rufus Morgan Burgess Jr., Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Matthew Burgess holds a photograph of his grandfather Rufus Morgan Burgess Jr., Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Matthew Burgess holds up the birth certificate for his grandfather, Rufus Morgan Burgess Jr., at his home Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Matthew Burgess holds up the birth certificate for his grandfather, Rufus Morgan Burgess Jr., at his home Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Matthew, left, and his twin brother Jonathan Burgess are photographed with a portrait of their great-great-grandfather Nelson Bell, who the family say also went by the name Rufus Burgess, Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. The portrait has been passed down for generations in the Burgess family. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Matthew, left, and his twin brother Jonathan Burgess are photographed with a portrait of their great-great-grandfather Nelson Bell, who the family say also went by the name Rufus Burgess, Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. The portrait has been passed down for generations in the Burgess family. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Descendants of Nelson Bell, brothers Milford Fonza, front left, and Elmer Fonza, front right, surrounded by extended family members, show their ancestors' pictures in Glendora, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Family members standing from left: Trent Mure, with son Armani Mure, and his wife Tami Mure, William Woolery, Louie Hobbs and Carolyn Fonza. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Descendants of Nelson Bell, brothers Milford Fonza, front left, and Elmer Fonza, front right, surrounded by extended family members, show their ancestors' pictures in Glendora, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Family members standing from left: Trent Mure, with son Armani Mure, and his wife Tami Mure, William Woolery, Louie Hobbs and Carolyn Fonza. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

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