Trump’s Hardest Fight May Be Staying Awake in Court

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

It may turn out that the one thing Donald Trump cannot get away with is sleeping in court.

As a young prosecutor, I was part of a legal team on a case presided over by a judge who kept falling asleep during the trial. The judge would often shout for all the lawyers to “Get up here!”—meaning we were to all go up to the bench for a side-bar out of earshot of the jury. There, the judge would berate one or all of us for not performing well.

However, sometimes by the time we got there the judge had fallen asleep. The lawyers would stand around awkwardly, while the judge’s clerk stared at us, silently daring one of us to try and awaken the sleeping jurist. Once the judge woke up, he carried on as though nothing had happened and proceeded to berate us. I learned, too, that the judge’s sleeping habits were a well-known secret around the courthouse. A secret which no lawyer or staff spoke about, likely out of fear of getting on the judge’s bad side.

Trump Judge Practically Eye Rolls at Request He Step Down

Judges get that kind of wall of silence, sometimes, and Donald Trump has benefitted from a similar kind of wall of silence around him for most of his life.

A wall of silence around rumors of his alleged draft-dodging, lack of intelligence, paying people to take tests for him, racism, sexism, lies about his wealth, and his sexual abuse of women. It’s a wall constructed from privilege, wealth, and non-disclosure agreements.

The deference Trump receives is evident in the court proceedings against him as well. For example, there is the enormous discounting of his required bond by an appeals court, the generous set of pretrial release conditions for a defendant facing dozens of felony counts across three jurisdictions, kid-gloves gag orders on his insults and veiled threats against witnesses, prosecutors, and judges, and no real enforcement of his apparent blatant violations of those gag orders.

But unlike in the rest of his life where his indiscretions—and even potential crimes—may be hidden away from public view, he can be viewed in a criminal courtroom like any other person. And as reported by The New York Times today, Trump apparently dozed off during the proceedings in full view of all in attendance at the non-televised trial. (The Trump campaign, predictably, called this “fake news.”)

Trump Campaign Insists Mid-Trial Snooze Never Happened

In so doing, Trump reportedly exhibited the classic signs recognized by any college student who has had an early morning class. Slack-jawed, his head drooping towards his chest, and being unresponsive to his lawyer’s notes. (Okay, maybe most students don’t have their lawyer in class with them.)

Trump’s lawyer—Todd Blanche—was observed to be in frequent communication with the former president during the proceedings. One commentator described their animated conversations and physical proximity as almost being intimate. This is curious because during jury selection, there really is not that much of a role for a client to play, so Blanche’s big show of talking with his client may have been a performance for his audience of one who writes his check.

Or, it could have been an effort to keep his elderly client from dozing off.

In Trump’s defense, it is no easy thing to sit through days and weeks of a trial when you have really nothing to do besides try to look attentive and respectful before a jury—during hours of legal nuances and sidebar conferences with the judge in which you don’t take part.

Jurors often doze off because of boredom, heat, and low blood-sugar. The latter affects all in the courtroom, hence much of the judge’s interaction with juries centers around lunch and if you have watched a jury after lunch you will see the full effects of insulin on wakefulness.

Certainly, trials are physically grueling for lawyers as well, but the lawyers remain both physically active during the day and, by necessity, mentally active, as they have to execute legal strategies and navigate the constant twists and turns of a trial.

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For Trump, this will be the equivalent of enduring the deprivations that accompany the boot camp he never had to go through in the military, because he never served (though he’s often said he “always felt like [he] was in the military” because of his high school military academy experience.)

He may feel like he has already been sentenced to prison conditions, including being unable to talk when he wants to, unable to go to the bathroom at his discretion, and limited access to Diet Cokes.

Should he nap again, his defense lawyers may be reluctant to arouse him through any violent physical shaking for fear of being tackled by the Secret Service—so Trump may get in significant snooze time in court. But when he awakens from such beatific reveries, he will find himself in what for him will be the nightmare reality of Judge Merchan’s courtroom at 100 Centre Street in Manhattan.

And upon waking, he may be grateful that the judge’s gag order does not ban snoring.

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