Judge in Trump hush money case orders media not to report where potential jurors work

NEW YORK — The judge in Donald Trump’s hush money trial ordered the media on Thursday not to report on where potential jurors have worked and to be careful about revealing information about those who will sit in judgment of the former president.

Judge Juan Merchan acted after one juror was dismissed when she expressed concerns about being “outed” for her role in the case after details about her became publicly known.

The actions pointed to the difficulties involved in trying to maintain anonymity for jurors in a case that has sparked wide interest and heated opinions, while lawyers need to sift through as much information as possible in a public courtroom to determine who to choose.

Despite the setback, 12 jurors were seated by the end of Thursday for the historic trial over a $130,000 hush money payment shortly before the 2016 election to porn actor Stormy Daniels to prevent her from making public her claims of a sexual meeting with Trump years earlier. Trump has denied the encounter.

The dismissed juror told Merchan she had friends, colleagues and family members contacting her to ask whether she was on the case. “I don’t believe at this point I can be fair and unbiased and let the outside influences not affect my decision-making in the courtroom,” she said.

Merchan directed reporters not to report it when potential jurors told the court their specific workplaces, past or present. That put journalists in the difficult position of not reporting something they heard in open court, and some media organizations were considering whether to protest having that onus placed on them.

Even if that specific information wasn’t released, there was some concern that enough information about potential jurors would get out that people might be able to identify them anyway.

As an example of what is getting out there, Politico on Thursday identified one potential juror as “a woman who lives in Manhattan and works as an asset manager.” She grew up in England and Hong Kong and lives with a self-employed boyfriend.

Another potential juror was identified as “an attorney for a large media company who lives in Gramercy Park.”

On Fox News Channel Wednesday night, host Jesse Watters did a segment with a jury consultant, revealing details about people who had been seated on the jury and questioning whether some were “stealth liberals” who would be out to convict Trump.

“This nurse scares me if I’m Trump,” he said. “She’s from the Upper East Side, master’s degree, not married, no kids, lives with her fiance and gets her news from The New York Times and CNN.”

Besides his order about employment history, Merchan said he was asking the media to “simply apply common sense and refrain from writing about anything that has to do, for example, with physical descriptions.”

He said “there was really no need” for the media to mention one widely-reported tidbit that a juror speaks with an Irish accent.

Anonymous juries have long existed, particularly in terrorism and mob-related cases or when there is a history of jury tampering. They have been ordered more frequently in the last two decades with the rising influence of social media and the anonymous hate speech that is sometimes associated with it. Usually courtroom artists are told they aren’t permitted to draw the face of any juror in their sketches; New York courts do not permit video coverage of trials.

During the Trump defamation trial in Manhattan federal court earlier this year, jurors had heightened protection of their identities by a security-conscious judge who routinely did not allow anyone in his courtroom to have a cellphone, even if it was shut off. Jurors were driven to and from the courthouse by the U.S. Marshals Service and were sequestered from the public during trial breaks.

When asked general questions about themselves during jury selection in that case, prospective jurors often gave vague answers that would have made it nearly impossible to determine much about them.

After the ruling in that case, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ordered the anonymous jury not to disclose the identities of any of the people they served with, and advised jurors not to disclose their service. So far, none have come forward publicly.

New York criminal defense lawyer Ron Kuby said New York state law requires trial attorneys be provided the names of jurors, even when they are otherwise anonymous. However, he said, the right can be overridden by the need to protect jurors’ safety.

As for the media, he said the judge can’t control what is reported but he can severely restrict what reporters see and hear if necessary.

“There are actions the judge could take. Courts have extraordinary powers to protect jurors from tampering and intimidation. It is really where a court’s power is at its peak,” Kuby said.

He said the ability of lawyers at Trump’s trial to research the social media history of jurors was important.

“Both sides have interest in preventing sleeper jurors who have their own agenda from serving on the jury,” he said.

Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor who is president of the West Coast Trial Lawyers, said the difficulty at the Trump trial is weeding out people with extreme viewpoints.

“Everyone in the entire country knows who Donald Trump is,” Rahmani said. “Some think he’s a criminal traitor and insurrectionist. Others think he’s a hero. You don’t have a lot of people in the middle.”


Associated Press writers Michael R. Sisak and Jake Offenhartz contributed to this report.

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