Like the other presidents before and after him, Bill Clinton appointed a number of judges to federal courts during his White House tenure. One of those was Donald Middlebrooks, who has been on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida for more than two decades.
That fact is not a good enough reason for Middlebrooks to recuse himself from hearing Trump’s lawsuit against his 2016 presidential nemesis, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the judge said Wednesday.
Middlebrooks denied a motion Trump filed Monday in which he claimed that his role as a judge in the case “amounts to prejudice so virulent or pervasive as to constitute bias against a party.”
The judge also made note of Trump’s apparent attempt to file the civil suit in a court whose judge was one of his appointees: “I note that Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in the Fort Pierce division of this District, where only one federal judge sits: Judge Aileen Cannon, who Plaintiff appointed in 2020. Despite the odds, this case landed with me instead. And when Plaintiff is a litigant before a judge that he himself appointed, he does not tend to advance these same sorts of bias concerns.”
Trump filed the suit against Hillary Clinton last month, alleging that she was engaged in a scheme to rig the 2016 presidential election that Trump won. Clinton was guilty of “racketeering,” the suit claimed, as part of a plot that made Watergate “pale in comparison.”
“The Defendants, blinded by political ambition, orchestrated a malicious conspiracy to disseminate patently false and injurious information about Donald J. Trump and his campaign, all in the hopes of destroying his life, his political career and rigging the 2016 Presidential Election in favor of Hillary Clinton,” Trump said in the lawsuit.
Middlebrooks said the appearance of impartiality was crucial to the judiciary but laid out all the reasons he did not fit the bill for disqualification in a five-page brief citing “well settled” law. Federal law stipulates that judges should disqualify themselves “in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
“I have never met or spoken with Bill or Hillary Clinton,” Middlebrooks wrote in his response. “Other than my appointment by Bill Clinton, I do not now have nor have I ever had any relationship with the Clintons.”
Further, the past cases Trump mentioned to back up his motion “do not appear to support his arguments,” the judge said.
“When I became a federal judge, I took an oath to ‘faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all duties . . . under the Constitution and laws of the United States.’ I have done so for the last twenty-five years, and this case will be no different,” he wrote.
Although the judiciary centers on the idea of impartiality, Trump liked to suggest that the president who nominated a judge held special sway over that judge’s decisions. He earned a rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts in 2018 for complaining about an “Obama judge” who ruled against his administration.
“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said at the time. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”