Federal judge again says accused Mar-a-Lago intruder is 'playing games with the court'

Posted at 3:36 PM, Aug 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-20 19:53:42-04

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A Chinese woman accused of trespassing at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort on Palm Beach will have a jury trial in September, a federal judge overseeing her case ruled on Tuesday.

33-year-old Yujing Zhang faces charges for allegedly lying to federal agents and sneaking into the club in late March. She has pleaded not guilty.

Zhang's trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 3. Zhang is representing herself against the charges.

She appeared in Fort Lauderdale federal court on Tuesday afternoon in a dark brown jumpsuit. Slumped over in a chair with her head in her hands, Zhang stared at the ground while U.S. District Judge Roy Altman heard other cases first.

At a prior hearing in August, prosecutors suggested Zhang could opt for a trial by judge and waive her right to a jury trial. Zhang seemed confused by the suggestion, so Judge Altman gave her one week to think about her options.

On Tuesday afternoon, Zhang evaded answering the judge on her choice, repeatedly telling the court, "I don't want to continue."

Judge Altman said if Zhang refused to answer, he would rule she didn't consent to a trial by judge. Asking again if she preferred that the judge decide the matter or a jury trial, Zhang responded, "I don't want either."

"Well, sometimes we have hard choices," responded Judge Altman. He eventually ruled that Zhang would not consent to the government's proposal to have a judge decide the case and ordered a jury trial instead.

Zhang's stand-in public defender, Robert Adler, noted to the court that she refused to meet with him last Friday to discuss the matter.

"I want her to know that we are available to assist her at any time," Adler stated.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Altman reminded Zhang that she could still have a public defender represent her at trial. Zhang did not respond.

"Are you just ignoring me, Ms. Zhang?" Judge Altman questioned.

Claiming she didn't hear everything the judge said, Zhang responded, "Are you saying I need a lawyer?"

"You need a lawyer, yes. I would like you to reconsider your decision to fire your lawyers," said Judge Altman.

Zhang again appeared to avoid responding to his question, this time saying she didn't think it was "good to put the clothes on in the jail" because it wasn't clean. The judge made it clear that he knew she could understand him.

"I know full well you're trying to play games with the court," stated Judge Altman.

Asking one more time if Zhang wanted a lawyer, she finally answered, "No, thank you."

Prosecutors claim Zhang lied to security at Mar-a-Lago on March 30 to gain access by claiming she was a member of the private club. President Trump was staying in Palm Beach that weekend but was not at the resort when the Secret Service detained Zhang.

Federal agents reportedly found four cell phones, an external hard drive, and a thumb drive initially thought to contain malware on Zhang. Investigators later determined the thumb drive did not have any malware.

Law enforcement officials allege they discovered a device used to detect hidden cameras inside Zhang's hotel room in Palm Beach. They also claim they found nine more USB drives, five USB cards, more than $8,000 in U.S. and Chinese currency, and several credit cards.

Federal prosecutors said it's unclear what Zhang's motive was. She has no known ties to South Florida. Zhang has been incarcerated for nearly five months while awaiting trial.