The jury determining whether Donald Trump raped E. Jean Carroll in the mid-1990s will be anonymous, a federal judge ruled on Thursday, citing the former president’s attacks on courts, judges and even jurors.
“Mr. Trump’s quite recent reaction to what he perceived as an imminent threat of indictment by a grand jury sitting virtually next door to this Court was to encourage ‘protest’ and to urge people to ‘take our country back,’” Senior U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan noted. “That reaction reportedly has been perceived by some as incitement to violence. And it bears mention that Mr. Trump repeatedly has attacked courts, judges, various law enforcement officials and other public officials, and even individual jurors in other matters.”
Without expressing a view on Trump’s culpability, Judge Kaplan noted that Trump’s rhetoric has been blamed for the Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“The defendant is a former president of the United States,” the judge wrote, listing the reasons why this is a “unique case.”
“He has been impeached twice although convicted on neither occasion,” Kaplan wrote. “He now is a candidate for election to a second term. He has inspired strong opinions, both highly favorable and highly unfavorable.”
Kaplan raised the issue of an anonymous jury on his own, without either party requesting one. Neither Trump nor Carroll’s legal team objected to the plan, and the judge suggested that there was a reason for that.
“If jurors’ identities were disclosed, there would be a strong likelihood of unwanted media attention to the jurors, influence attempts, and/or of harassment or worse of jurors by supporters of Mr. Trump,” the judge wrote. “Indeed, Mr. Trump himself has made critical statements on social media regarding the grand jury foreperson in Atlanta, Georgia, and the jury foreperson in the Roger Stone criminal case. And this properly may be viewed in the context of Mr. Trump’s many statements regarding individual judges, the judiciary in general, and other public officials, as well as what reports have characterized as ‘violent rhetoric’ by Mr. Trump including before his presidency.”
The only objections to the plan for an anonymous jury came from media organizations: The Associated Press and the New York Daily News in particular.
“To be sure, as the News and the AP argue, there is a presumptive right of access by the public to civil proceedings,” Kaplan wrote. “The Court assumes, without deciding, that the right of access usually extends to the identities of jurors. But the presumption of access, even assuming it applies to jurors’ names, is not an unqualified right to that information.”
The extensively footnoted decision invokes the various times that Trump has been blamed for violence.
“The Final Report issued by the Select Committee to investigate the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol concluded that ‘the central cause of January 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump, whom many others followed,’” Kaplan noted, adding that he “expresses neither agreement nor disagreement with that conclusion.”
After the forewoman of the Fulton County special grand jury went on her media tour, Trump sent out a statement on the interviews of “extremely energetic young woman,” also footnoted in the opinion. In another citation, jurors in Roger Stone’s criminal trial expressed fear for their safety from Trump supporters. The judge also invoked the cases of Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea Moss, who faced a barrage of threats over conspiracy theories about their work in the 2020 election.
At every turn, Kaplan noted that it doesn’t matter whether Trump incited violence in “either a legal or a factual sense.”
“The point is whether jurors will perceive themselves to be at risk,” Kaplan wrote.
Ultimately, Kaplan found that proposition “very strong.”
“On the basis of the unprecedented circumstances in which this trial will take place, including the extensive pretrial publicity and a very strong risk that jurors will fear harassment, unwanted invasions of privacy, and retaliation by virtue of the matters referred to above, the Court finds that there is strong reason to believe that the jury needs the protections prescribed below,” Kaplan wrote, shielding jurors’ names, addresses and places of employment.
Trial is slated to take place in April.
Listen to Law&Crime’s podcast “Objections” for a breakdown of the history and uses of anonymous juries.
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