Newsmaker: Amit Mehta, the Indian American judge who ruled against President Trump

Judge Amit Mehta
Judge Amit Mehta

Hip hop-loving Mehta, who listens to Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake and Eminem, grew up in Baltimore

Earlier this week, US District Court Judge Amit Mehta grabbed national headlines when he ruled against President Donald Trump’s attempt to block House Democrats from getting his financial records.

The Indian American upheld a subpoena from the House Oversight and Reform Committee to Mazars USA, an accounting firm representing Trump, seeking eight years of his financial records, saying that Congress has the right to investigate potential illegal conduct of a president.

“So long as Congress investigates on a subject matter on which legislation could be had, Congress Acts as contemplated by Article 1 of Constitution,” Mehta ruled. “Applying those principles here compels the conclusion that President cannot block the subpoena to Mazars.”

The ruling was so direct and blunt that an Esquire headline screamed: “Judge Amit Mehta Just Threw Trump’s Lawyers Out of Court Like a Bar Bouncer Would a Drunk.”

Mehta is the first federal judge to intervene in the ongoing battle between Trump and the Congressional Democrats over the president’s records.

Born in the city of Patan, in northern Gujarat, India, Mehta’s parents Ragini and Priyavadan Mehta moved to the United States when he was a year old.

The younger Mehta grew up in Reisterstown, a suburb of Baltimore, where he attended Franklin High School. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from Georgetown University in 1993, he went on to receive a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law in Chancellorsville.

Mehta began his legal career at the law firm of Latham and Watkins, where he served as an associate for a year. In 1998, he went to clerk for Judge Susan P. Graber of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

A year later, Mehta returned to the private practice joining the law firm of Zuckerman Spaeder, LLP as an associate. In 2002, he joined the Public Defender Service for the District of Colombia as a staff attorney, defending indigent clients charged with felonies and misdemeanors. He also represented clients before the D.C. Court of Appeals and the federal district court.

Mehta joined Zuckerman Spaeder as a partner in 2007. At the firm, he focused on white collar criminal defense, civil litigation, and appellate litigation. His bio posted on the Zuckerman Spaeder at the time said Mehta “represented public figures, corporate officials, and companies charged with or targeted for criminal prosecution in cases involving fraud, bribery, and public corruption.” He was also “part of the defense team that won an acquittal for the former president of the Salt Lake City Olympic Bid Committee against federal charges of racketeering and fraud,” it said.

One of the highlights of Mehta’s career as a lawyer was his representation of former IMF President Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was arrested and charged with sexual assault of a hotel employee at Sofitel New York. He won the case with all criminal charges against Kahn getting dismissed.

Mehta, a self-confessed fan of hip-hop, listens to Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake and Eminem. In the footnote to a copyright infringement case in 2015, he wrote: “This court also does not consider itself an ordinary ‘lay person’ when it comes to hip-hop music and lyrics. The court has listened to hip hop for decades and considers among his favorite musical artists, perhaps as a sign of his age, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake, and Eminem.”

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