Thursday, December 1, 2022

Trump v. U.S. - Special Master Not Here

The 11th Circuit issued an opinion  here in the appeal of Trump v. United States looking at the question of whether "the district court had jurisdiction to block the United States from using lawfully seized records in a criminal investigation."  It all came down to whether the district court even had jurisdiction to hear this case.  The district court had put in a special master, in a case that seemed an odd recipient of such a process.

Special masters are important when there is a need to protect attorney-client privileged material, especially when the recipient of the search is a criminal defense attorney.  (see here)  But that was not the issue here, and more importantly, selecting a court to hear this case was unusual, and attempting to use an equitable remedy argument proved even more problematic for the former president.  The 11th Circuit was not about to tolerate the use of equitable jurisdiction for a search warrant.  The court stated:

The law is clear. We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so. Either approach would be a radical reordering of our caselaw limiting the federal courts’ involvement in criminal investigations. And both would violate bedrock separation-of-powers limitations. Accordingly, we agree with the government that the district court improperly exercised equitable jurisdiction, and that dismissal of the entire proceeding is required. 

Special masters are important when a criminal defense attorney has his or her law office searched.  But this is not that case.  More importantly, just selecting a court of your choice to hear whether a special master should be appointed is a problem. And trying to use an equitable remedy to stop a criminal investigation is not going to happen. 


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