D.C. judge’s comments on Trump in hush money case ‘inappropriate’ and ‘unseemly,’ experts say

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A federal judge from Washington, D.C., is facing criticism for what experts are calling “inappropriate” comments about former President Trump in a media interview as Trump faces a federal trial in the judge’s district. 

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton for the District of Columbia appeared in an interview with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins Thursday after Trump criticized the daughter of New York Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over the hush money case scheduled to go to trial April 15. 

Walton, in a rare media appearance for a sitting judge, sat for the interview Thursday and criticized Trump’s comments, calling them “very disconcerting.”

But legal experts tell Fox News Digital that Walton’s comments were “inappropriate” because Trump is a defendant in Walton’s district in a separate case brought by special counsel Jack Smith’s case.

NEW YORK JUDGE IMPOSES GAG ORDER ON TRUMP IN BRAGG HUSH MONEY CASE

Judge Reggie Walton testifying

Reggie B. Walton, judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

“Judge Reggie Walton is a sitting federal judge in a district where Donald Trump is currently a criminal defendant with an active case. He should not be publicly commenting in media interviews on anything related to him, full stop,” said Kerri Kupec Urbhan, former counselor to Attorney General Bill Barr and Fox News legal editor.

“This is yet another example of a lack of regard for the appearance of fairness when it comes to Donald Trump, which, whether you like Trump or not, flies in the face of what judges and the justice system are supposed to be about.”

TRUMP HUSH MONEY TRIAL TO BEGIN APRIL 15, JUDGE RULES, DENYING MOTION TO DELAY

Merchan this week imposed a gag order on the former president and 2024 GOP presumptive nominee ahead of the trial next month. In a Truth Social post Thursday, Trump referenced the judge’s daughter by name and called her a “Rabid Trump Hater” for her associations with a firm that’s consulted Democratic candidates and causes, suggesting that “totally compromised” her father and calling for his removal from the case. 

Merchan issued the gag order against Trump Tuesday, pointing to his “prior extrajudicial statements,” saying they establish “a sufficient risk to the administration of justice.” 

Merchan ordered that Trump cannot make or direct others to make public statements about witnesses concerning their potential participation or about counsel in the case — other than Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — or about court staff, DA staff or family members of staff.

Trump speaking

Former President Trump speaks during a press conference at 40 Wall Street after a pretrial hearing March 25, 2024, in New York City.  (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Trump also referred to a Twitter account formerly owned by Merchan’s daughter that features a picture of Trump behind prison bars as the profile image. 

Walton, who has also presided over Jan. 6, 2021, cases in his district, told CNN he was “concerned” about Trump’s comments. 

“We have had judges who’ve lost their lives or family members who’ve lost their lives as a result of individuals who have been litigants in their courtroom. And I think it’s important in order to preserve our democracy that we maintain the rule of law,” he said.

MANHATTAN DA BRAGG REQUESTS JUDGE IMPOSE GAG ORDER ON TRUMP DURING HUSH MONEY CASE

Judge Juan Merchan poses for a photo.

New York Judge Juan Merchan is presiding over the hush money case scheduled to go to trial April 15.  (Marc A. Hermann/POLARIS)

“The rule of law can only be maintained if we have independent judicial officers … and that the law is applied equally to everyone who appears in our courthouse.

“I think it’s important that, as judges, we speak out and say things and reference to things that conceivably are going to impact on the process, because if we don’t have a viable court system, we have tyranny.” 

Walton’s office declined to comment when reached by Fox News Digital.

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John Shu, a constitutional attorney who served in both Bush administrations, told Fox News Digital Walton’s comments were “unseemly.” 

“It’s unseemly for Judge Walton to publicly discuss Trump or a Trump case, regardless of which one, because one of Trump’s active criminal cases is in Judge Walton’s court, the federal district court in D.C.,” he said. 

Shu added that “it seems that the interviewer wrongly conflated Trump’s harsh social media critiques about Judge Merchan and his daughter – which probably fall within First Amendment protections – and the awful, actual threats that Judge Walton and his family faced, which are considered criminal behavior and thus not protected speech.”

“Just like the awful, actual threats that Justices Alito, Coney Barrett, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Roberts and Thomas and their respective families had to deal with after the Dobbs draft opinion leak,” Shu noted. 

Following the leak of the Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court opinion, which eventually overturned Roe v. Wade, crowds of protesters swarmed the homes of several of the justices in the majority opinion for several days. One man was charged with plotting an assassination attempt on Justice Brett Kavanaugh. 

Carrie Severino, the president of Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) and former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, said ensuring the safety of judges and their families is critical for the rule of law. 

But, she said, “it’s surprising that some of the people who have praised Judge Walton for his comments weren’t speaking out when there was an attempted assassination of Justice Kavanaugh, or when left-wing groups doxxed six of the justices and illegally protested at their homes after the Dobbs opinion leaked.”

Merchan announced Monday that the trial will begin April 15. 

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Trump on 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. Trump pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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