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Who Is Senior U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie, the New Special Master in the DOJ’s Mar-a-Lago Search?

Mar-a-Lago docs

On the left, former President Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-A-Lago is pictured on Aug. 9, 2022. The photo on the right shows the highly classified documents that the FBI found inside Trump’s office. (Photo of Mar-a-Lago by Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images; classified documents found in the search via DOJ)

The senior federal judge tapped as a special master in President Donald Trump’s lawsuit over the federal search at Mar-a-Lago is a veteran of complex and high-profile cases who also served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Raymond Joseph Dearie entered into semi-retirement in August, after 36 years on the bench. He remains technically on “active” status, but prosecutors did not object to his appointment. He was the only of the four candidates unopposed by both parties.

The 78-year-old had been on senior status since 2011, which allowed him to limit the number of new cases he took. He was one of two nominees whom Trump’s lawyers suggested U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon appoint as special master, the other being Paul Huck, a former partner at Jones Day who is married to 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Barbara Lagoa.

The DOJ suggested Thomas Griffith, a retired D.C. Circuit judge, and Barbara Jones, a retired Southern District of New York judge who presided as special master of over the privilege reviews of Trump’s ex-fixer Michael Cohen and current counsel Rudy Giuliani.

In going with Dearie, Cannon selected a 1986 appointee of President Ronald Reagan who has in recent years called for reform of federal sentencing laws, telling the New York Criminal Bar Association in 2016: “Let us reserve prison cells for the violent and those who victimize irreparably.”

“I cannot help but wonder how we as a society would fare if we took a fraction of the money we spend on warehousing people and invested it in programs to reach those vulnerable to the hollow call of the streets,” Dearie said, according to a transcript of his speech published in the New York Law Journal.

Dearie was born in Rockville Centre, New York, and he graduated from Fairfield University in Connecticut in 1966. He earned a law degree from St. John’s School of Law in 1969, then worked in private practice in New York City until he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York in 1971. He was chief of the office’s appeals division until taking over the general crimes section in 1974. He then led the criminal division from 1976-77 before serving for a year as an executive assistant to the U.S. attorney. He returned to private practice for three years, then was chief assistant for the U.S. Attorney’s Office from 1980-82 before being appointed the top U.S. attorney for the district in 1982.

Dearie stayed in the top prosecutor role until Reagan appointed him to the federal bench in 1986. He went on to be chief judge of the district from 2007 to 2011, and the atrium of the Brooklyn federal courthouse is named for him.

He said in 2016 he learned two major things as a prosecutor: “that most people who commit crimes are not evil incarnate” and that “I will never underestimate the capacity of people to change.”

Still, he said, “This is not a cry for leniency. Not at all. Certainly retribution and deterrence have their place in sound sentencing jurisprudence.”

Dearie’s cases included a criminal case against a former al-Qaida recruit who plotted to bomb the New York subway system, and an al-Qaida operative who plotted to bomb a shopping mall in Manchester, England. He also presided over the racketeering and money laundering case of Chuck Blazer, the late former FIFA soccer official who became a government informant.

Breon Peace, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, told the New York Journal last month that Dearie has mentored “countless attorneys, clerks, court staff, and litigants who have benefited from his wisdom, compassion, and love of the law.”

“Judge Dearie has faithfully served the Eastern District of New York with integrity and courage for decades,” Peace said. “From my appearances before him as a young AUSA to present, he has always been incredibly thoughtful and fair. He cares about getting it right and doing what is just.”

In 2013, Dearie married Vivian Ann McCallum, who screens judicial candidates in New York City and surrounding areas as the director since 2007 of the Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission for the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department of New York State.

Cannon has ordered Dearie to complete his review by Nov. 30.

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A graduate of the University of Oregon, Meghann worked at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and the Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho, before moving to California in 2013 to work at the Orange County Register. She spent four years as a litigation reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and one year as a California-based editor and reporter for and associated publications such as The National Law Journal and New York Law Journal before joining Law & Crime News. Meghann has written for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Bloomberg Law, ABA Journal, The Forward, Los Angeles Business Journal and the Laguna Beach Independent. Her Twitter coverage of federal court hearings in a lawsuit over homelessness in Los Angeles placed 1st in the Los Angeles Press Club's Southern California Journalism Awards for Best Use of Social Media by an Independent Journalist in 2021. An article she freelanced for Los Angeles Times Community News about a debate among federal judges regarding the safety of jury trials during COVID also placed 1st in the Orange County Press Club Awards for Best Pandemic News Story in 2021.