Raymond Dearie, the senior US district judge named on Thursday night as the “special master” – or independent arbiter – to vet records seized by the FBI from Donald Trump’s Florida estate has been described as an experienced legal operator who “doesn’t tolerate nonsense” and won’t “play games”.
The Florida-based US district judge Aileen Cannon on Thursday appointed Dearie to sit in the middle of a hot and bright political spotlight, serving as the special master, requested by Trump’s side, in the legal fight between the former Republican president and the Department of Justice.
They are arguing over access for criminal investigators to dozens of boxes of government documents, including highly classified US secrets, that the former president stashed at his Florida resort and residence after leaving the White House.
“He [Dearie] works incredibly well with parties, but doesn’t tolerate nonsense. He will not allow parties, or attorneys, to play games, or play fast-and-loose with the rules,” the New York-based civil lawyer Richard Garbarini, of Garbarini Fitzgerald, told Politico.
Dearie was one of two candidates for the post proposed by the former president, and the US justice department had said it would not oppose his appointment.
In her order, Cannon also rejected the justice department’s demand that prosecutors be allowed to continue their review of the seized records while the dispute is ongoing, and their assertion that the investigation is urgent due to the highly classified and sensitive material in the records.
Investigators are currently blocked by Cannon from continuing to examine the material.
“The court does not find it appropriate to accept the government’s conclusions on these important and disputed issues without further review by a neutral third party in an expedited and orderly fashion,” Cannon said in the ruling.
Dearie, who is 78 and based in Brooklyn, is tasked with deciding whether any of the documents seized by the FBI during the August search are privileged – either due to attorney-client confidentiality or through a legal principle called executive privilege – and should be off limits to federal investigators.
Other lawyers with experience of Dearie described him as thorough and even-handed.
“He’s one of the few judges who both sides want to appear in front of. He is held in the highest regard by attorneys. He’s someone who actually listens to the lawyers and considers what they have to say before he makes a decision,” Lindsay Gerdes, a former Brooklyn federal prosecutor, told Politico.
Dearie has until 30 November, which falls after the midterm elections in early November, to finish the review. In less good news for Trump, he will be required to pay the costs associated with the special master.
Earlier this month, Cannon had granted a request by Trump’s lawyers to name a special master to vet the seized records.
The justice department also is looking into possible obstruction of the investigation after it found evidence that records may have been removed or concealed from the FBI when it sent agents to the property in June to try to recover all classified documents.
Dearie served as US attorney in Brooklyn before being appointed to the federal bench there by the Republican president Ronald Reagan in 1986, and was chief judge of that court from 2007 to 2011. He assumed what is called senior status – a sort of semi-retirement with a reduced case load – in 2011, a role in which he continues to serve.
The justice department had said in a court filing on Monday that Dearie’s experience as a judge qualified him for the special master role, but opposed the other candidate proposed by Trump’s team, private attorney Paul Huck. Trump’s lawyers opposed the two retired federal judges proposed by the department.
On the bench, Dearie was one of multiple judges presiding over cases against several men accused in 2009 of plotting to bomb New York City’s subway system at the direction of al-Qaida leaders.
Dearie was appointed in 2011 to the foreign intelligence surveillance court, which reviews warrant applications from the US government on matters of national security, where he served until 2019.
In 2017, he was one of four federal judges who approved warrants used to surveil the former Trump campaign aide Carter Page amid concern about Trump campaign contacts with Russians, according to papers released to media outlets that sued for the records.
The justice department had opposed Trump’s request for a special master to review the seized documents to see if any should be withheld from investigators as privileged.
In ruling in favor of Trump’s request for a special master, Cannon rejected the department’s arguments that the records belong to the government and that because Trump is no longer president he cannot claim executive privilege. Cannon was appointed to the bench by Trump in 2020.