FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge delayed the trial of a Chinese woman charged with trespassing at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and lying to Secret Service agents after accusing her of trying to “play games” at a Tuesday hearing as she acted as her own attorney against the judge’s strong advice.
U.S. District Judge Roy Altman rescheduled Yujing Zhang’s trial to begin Sept. 3 instead of next week to give her more time to prepare after she did not receive all the paperwork defense attorneys usually get and she said she was sick. He also gave the 33-year-old Shanghai business consultant until next week to consider a prosecution motion to have Altman decide the case instead of a jury and until Aug. 30 to file defense documents that she failed to file by Tuesday’s deadline.
From Altman’s questioning it appears Zhang has done little to prepare for a trial that could see her spend six years in prison if convicted. She fired her public defenders in June, saying she wanted to defend herself even though she has no familiarity with the U.S. justice system. Altman spent an hour in June trying to talk her out of exercising that right and resumed that effort Tuesday.
After she struggled Tuesday with understanding basic legal procedures such as calling witnesses and picking a jury, the judge told her he could reappoint her former public defenders, who stood quietly 20 feet (6 meters) away. Altman is requiring them to be present in case she changes her mind.
“I figured that would be your answer,” Altman replied, sounding resigned.
At one point early in the hearing, Zhang appeared to be staring into space and did not respond to repeated questions Altman posed through her Mandarin interpreter.
“The defendant is apparently trying to play games with the court. The court will not allow the defendant to play games,” Altman said as he declared that the hearing would continue with or without Zhang’s cooperation.
Zhang told Altman that she felt dizzy, possibly from low blood pressure. He asked if she had reported that to a jail doctor. She said she’d told the marshals who had brought her to court Tuesday.
After the prosecutors made their motion to try the case without a jury, Altman told Zhang it is her absolute right to be tried by 12 jurors, but she can waive it. She asked if the jury could be smaller than 12 members. Altman did not respond but told her to think about her decision.
Zhang was arrested March 30 after prosecutors say she lied when she told a Secret Service agent she was there to visit the pool. She was taken to the lobby where she then told a receptionist that she was there for a United Nations friendship event that night and had come early to take pictures. That event had been canceled and prosecutors say Zhang had been informed.
Prosecutors say Zhang was carrying four cellphones, a laptop and an external hard drive at Mar-a-Lago, telling agents she feared they would be stolen if she left them at a nearby hotel. However, when agents searched her room they say they discovered in the open more electronics gear — including a device to detect hidden cameras — $8,000 in cash and numerous credit and debit cards.
Zhang is not charged with espionage, although prosecutors have filed one document in secret, saying it pertains to national security issues. They said another would be filed soon.
Before their firing, Zhang’s public defenders said she came to Mar-a-Lago believing there would be a dinner for the U.N. group, part of a $20,000 travel package she had purchased from a man named “Charles” she only knew through social media. They pointed to a receipt Zhang received from Charles Lee, a Chinese national who promotes such events at Mar-a-Lago, and a flyer she had promoting it.
Lee ran the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association, which is not affiliated with the U.N., and was photographed at least twice with Cindy Yang, a Republican donor and former Florida massage parlor owner who organized events at Mar-a-Lago.
The president was visiting Mar-a-Lago the weekend of Zhang’s arrest, but was at his nearby golf club when she arrived and she was never near him.