In a notable development in the ongoing legal saga involving former President Donald Trump, federal Judge Tanya S. Chutkan has partially granted Trump’s request in the election-subversion case against him.
Chutkan issued the ruling on Thursday that partially accommodates the former president’s request. The order calls for a cessation of most new substantive filings. However, the judge declined to hold Jack Smith in contempt.
The halt will remain until there’s a verdict on whether Trump possesses “presidential immunity” against criminal accusations. Chutkan is overseeing the federal criminal case against Trump for allegedly attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The trial was initially set to begin on March 4, 2024. The case has garnered significant attention as it involves Trump’s appeal against the court’s earlier decision, which denied his motions to dismiss based on claims of presidential immunity and constitutional grounds.
However, Judge Chutkan has indicated that the date might be unlikely to hold now due to ongoing appellate proceedings regarding Trump’s claim of “presidential immunity”. In response to what Trump alleged as violations of a court order by the government, his legal team filed a Motion for Order to Show Cause.
They argued that the government had erred by continuing to produce discovery and file a motion in limine despite the stay on the case’s deadlines. Trump’s motion sought various remedies, including holding the prosecutors in contempt, withdrawal of their actions, and monetary sanctions for legal expenses.
Judge Chutkan’s ruling addresses these concerns by partially granting Trump’s motion. The court acknowledged the stay induced by Trump’s appeal, effectively pausing further proceedings that would advance the case toward trial or impose additional litigation burdens on Trump.
The decision implies a stay on the deadlines and proceedings initially scheduled by the court’s Pretrial Order. However, the ruling also highlights that the Stay Order did not explicitly prohibit the government’s subsequent actions, which included additional discovery production and the filing of a Motion in Limine.
The judge elaborated on the legal standards for civil contempt, indicating that an unambiguous court order must exist, which the respondents must have failed to comply with. In her analysis, Judge Chutkan noted that while the government’s actions did not fully align with the Stay Order’s purpose, they did not constitute a violation of its explicit terms.
The court’s decision thus represents a partial victory for Trump, establishing a temporary halt on substantive filings in the case. However, it also clarifies the scope of the Stay Order, forbidding further substantive pretrial motions without the court’s prior approval.
The initially scheduled date for the trial holds importance as it falls right before the “Super Tuesday” primary contests and shortly before another trial in New York concerning alleged hush money payments. The date represents a middle ground between the January 2, 2024 date proposed by special counsel Jack Smith’s team and the April 2026 date requested by Trump’s legal team.
Even with the ongoing appeal creating uncertainty, potential jurors were originally instructed to report on February 9, 2024, for questionnaire completion. However, this could change based on the progress of the appellate court and any potential Supreme Court actions.