Will a Trump appointee preside over Mar-a-Lago case? What to know about the judge

When President Trump arrives at Miami federal court Tuesday afternoon, who will be the presiding judge?

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon. The Fort Pierce-based judge is a former federal prosecutor nominated by Trump in 2020.

Cannon was randomly assigned, selected from among four federal judges in South Florida.

Cannon already has been involved with the documents case. She was criticized for her handling of Trump’s civil case challenging the FBI seizing classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach estate. An appellate court overturned her favorable decisions for the former president in that dispute.

It’s not known yet whether Cannon — who could handle Trump’s first court appearance Tuesday in Miami instead of a customary magistrate judge — will stay on the case.

Here are some things to know about the judge, based on Miami Herald reporting over the past two years:

Aileen Cannon wrote about tomatoes and yoga in Miami

Before she became a federal judge, Cannon was briefly a journalist in Miami.

During a span of three months, Cannon’s work as an intern two decades ago was published in el Nuevo Herald.

On her judicial application she listed, as requested, “titles, publishers and dates of books, articles, reports, letters to the editor, editorial pieces, or other published material you have written or edited, including material published on the Internet.” Cannon listed 20 items. Three were scholarly in nature, and 17 were short news items in el Nuevo Herald from summer 2002. Headlines included: “Tomatoes may help reduce tumors,” “The Atoms Family: An Exhibition about Energy,” “Prenatal Yoga: A Healthy Alternative for Delivery.”

The day Cannon was confirmed to the bench

Aileen Cannon, who was born in Colombia and grew up in Miami, was confirmed by the Senate to the federal bench in November 2022.

The then-39-year-old assistant U.S. attorney based in Fort Pierce, was confirmed on a 56-21 vote, with 12 Democrats joining 44 Republicans in favor.

“Ms. Cannon is a highly qualified individual, and I am confident that she will serve Florida’s Southern District honorably,” Sen. Marco Rubio said at the time

Cannon has worked in the U.S. attorney’s office since 2013 and before spent three years in private practice.

Timeline of Cannon’s involvement in Mar-a-Lago case

After Trump left office, the National Archives and Records Administration tried to retrieve all of the materials from the former president.

Cannon presided in a civil case after Trump’s lawyers filed a lawsuit. The lawyers asked her to appoint a special master to review both executive- and attorney-client privileged documents that might have been taken by FBI agents during the search of Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.

In 2002, Cannon made the call to appoint an independent expert to examine the documents — including classified government materials — seized by the FBI agents. Three months later, a federal appellate court in Atlanta found she should have heeded her first legal concerns. A three-judge panel reversed her decision to name a “special master” because she had no authority to do so.

“The key point is that Judge Cannon had no jurisdiction to do anything here,” said Mark Schnapp, a former federal prosecutor and longtime Miami criminal defense attorney. “She tried to assert equitable jurisdiction [to appoint the special master], but her own opinion showed why her analysis was defective. Her opinion got ripped to shreds by the Eleventh Circuit Court.”

Cannon’s decision slowed the FBI’s criminal probe of the former president. The Justice Department appealed her ruling and scored a major legal victory, allowing its investigation of the classified documents case to move forward at full throttle.

Who is Aileen Cannon?

Judge Aileen Cannon, seen here while appearing by video before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee during a July 2020 hearing.
Judge Aileen Cannon, seen here while appearing by video before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee during a July 2020 hearing.

Personal: Born in Cali, Colombia, raised in Miami by a mother from Cuba and a father from Indiana.

Politics: Member of the conservative Federalist Society for nearly two decades and was recruited as a federal judge by Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Education: Graduated from Ransom Everglades in Coconut Grove and then Duke University, spending a semester in Spain. She also graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School.

Early career: Clerked for the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Des Moines, Iowa, and later landed a job at the prominent Washington law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. In 2013, she was hired as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, where she worked at first in the major crimes sections and then transferred to the appellate section involving convictions and sentencings. Then she transferred to the Fort Pierce office.

Family: She settled in the Vero Beach area with her husband, Josh Lorence, an executive for Bobby’s Burgers, the celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s fast-casual restaurant chain. They have two children.