Why Judge Aileen Cannon is under fire in Trump classified documents case

The judge at the center of former President Donald Trump’s classified documents case in Florida has ordered three days of hearings − including on an unusual legal argument raised by Trump − beginning Friday morning.

The hearings begin as federal District Court Judge Aileen Cannon is facing scrutiny after the New York Times reported Thursday that she rejected suggestions from two other judges, including her district's chief judge, to step aside when she was first assigned the case.

Cannon is already under fire after indefinitely delaying the trial, effectively ensuring there will not be a verdict in the case until after the November election.

Here’s what to know about Cannon:

Who is Judge Aileen Cannon?

Cannon is an American lawyer and has served as a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida since 2020.

Upon graduating from Duke University in 2003, she attended the University of Michigan Law School. She clerked for a judge in Iowa before working for the prominent corporate law firm, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, from 2009 to 2012.

Cannon landed a job as a federal prosecutor in 2013 in the Southern District of Florida. She remained there until 2020, working in the major crimes division before transferring to the appellate division where her work involved convictions and sentencings.

More: Trump's Florida classified documents case gets ready for 3 days of hearings | The Excerpt

Why are some calling Judge Cannon corrupt?

Cannon has been under fire for delaying the trial, almost guaranteeing that it will not happen before November’s election. If Trump wins and moves back into the White House, he could order the Justice Department to drop the case.

Opponents of the former president have also criticized a previous decision that was helpful to Trump and made by Cannon during the criminal investigation. Cannon temporarily blocked investigators from examining seized documents while a special master reviewed Trump's claims that the documents were privileged.

Former President Donald Trump and special counsel Jack Smith are seen in a combination of file photos in Washington in 2023.
Former President Donald Trump and special counsel Jack Smith are seen in a combination of file photos in Washington in 2023.

Her decision was reversed, though, by a panel of appellate judges all nominated by Republican presidents.

Judicial colleagues, including Southern District of Florida Chief Judge Cecilia Altonaga, phoned Cannon at the outset to suggest she step aside.

Who appointed Judge Cannon?

In the final months of his presidency, Trump nominated and appointed Cannon to the federal bench after confirmation by the Republican-controlled Senate in November 2020.

As a federal judge, she presided over four criminal trials before taking on Trump’s classified documents case in 2022.

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump arrives at the courthouse as he is expected to bid for dismissal in a hearing on a classified documents case, in Fort Pierce, Florida on March 14, 2024.
Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump arrives at the courthouse as he is expected to bid for dismissal in a hearing on a classified documents case, in Fort Pierce, Florida on March 14, 2024.

More: Court records reveal new details of alleged obstruction in Trump's classified documents case

Can Judge Cannon be removed?

Either party could request Cannon be removed from the case – though it’s unlikely Trump’s lawyers would do so.

Special counsel Jack Smith could make the request, but experts say Cannon’s actions so far do not necessarily merit the move, according to NBC News.

Judges can be removed from a case for reasons including a conflict of interest keeping them from being impartial or for illegal conduct.

Contributing: Aysha Bagchi, USA TODAY, and Bart Jansen, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Judge in Trump’s classified documents case attracting controversy