Former presidents not immune from criminal and civil indictments

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty Josephus Jimenez - The Freeman

Since the Philippine legal system is largely patterned on the American legal system, considering among others, that our own fundamental law has been formulated based on the philosophy, principles, and procedures of the US Constitution, we should know that former Philippine presidents are no longer immune from suits after their tenure as the country's chief executive. Let us observe what is happening to former US president Donald Trump.

As the US is preparing for its next presidential polls, Donald Trump is facing a number of indictments. Based on my research, Trump is under three separate indictments and is currently awaiting a fourth as the 2024 election draws near. In addition to the charges levied against him by special counsel Jack Smith and Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis is expected soon to reveal whether she will charge Trump over election interference in Georgia. And, if that weren’t enough, the former president is facing several civil suits including one led by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, who is alleging that Trump committed business fraud.

To our mind, the most problematic to the Trump camp is the indictment on election fraud. Our sources indicated that Trump was indicted on August 1 for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which led to the attack on the Capitol. Trump is set to be arraigned on August 3 in Washington, D.C., where a trial would take place. No date has been set yet, but Smith wants a “speedy trial”, which by law means within 70 days of charges. That timing, like everything else in the case, will be decided by Judge Tanya Chutkan. This criminal case is pending in the Federal US District Court for the District of Columbia with Jack Smith being appointed by the US Department of Justice as special counsel and prosecutor.

The US news reports also indicate that Trump has another pending case in Florida. A year after the FBI recovered dozens of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago, Trump was hit with the first-ever federal indictment of a former president in June. He was charged with 37 counts including willful retention of national defense information and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Then in July, other prosecutors filed a superseding indictment that included an additional three charges against Trump. In the new indictment, the prosecutors are alleging that Trump plotted with two employees to destroy incriminating security camera footage. Trump’s trial is scheduled to begin next spring, or May 2024, by which time the Republican primary will likely be over and the general election against Joe Biden will have begun.

It is also reported that in 2021, Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis began her investigation into the Trump campaign’s attempts to overturn Joe Biden’s victory the year before. The probe centers around the infamous phone call Trump made to Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensberger, asking him to “find” additional votes during a recount in order for Trump to be declared the winner. Last year, New York attorney general Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Trump alleging he committed fraud by misrepresenting his net worth and the valuations of several of his properties as a means to deceive banks and lenders. The suit also named three of Trump’s adult children — Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric — as well as the Trump Organization. James is seeking $250 million and to permanently bar the Trumps from operating a business in New York State. This is a big blow to the businesses of the Trump group.

In 2019, the headlines bannered a story about writer E. Jean Caroll who accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the mid-1990s. After Trump accused her of lying, Carroll, represented by Roberta Kaplan, sued him for allegedly defaming her. A second defamation trial will start in federal court in New York on January 15, 2024 --which will allow Carroll to amend her original suit for defamation against Trump to add the claims he made about her at a CNN town hall meeting.

Former Philippine presidents GMA, Erap, and Duterte are better forewarned that they are not entirely immune from suits for unlawful acts, if any, committed during their term of office. Their presidential immunity ended the moment they left the presidency. Death had granted former president Marcos Sr., Cory Aquino, FVR, and PNoy perpetual immunity from suits.

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