On Tuesday, special counsel Jack Smith asked the federal judge in Donald Trump’s election-subversion case in Washington, D.C. to take precautions to ensure the privacy and safety of prospective jurors.
About a month before the trial is set to begin, Smith’s lawyers lobbied U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan to allow a questionnaire to begin screening possible jurors in early February. Potential jurors who say they can’t be impartial or participate would be eliminated through such a process, but their identities would be revealed to the lawyers. Prosecutors pushed for the judge to take many precautions to shield the identities of jurors from public disclosure.
Prosecutors Molly Gaston and Thomas Windom argued that “given the particular sensitivities of this case, stemming both from heightened public interest and the defendant’s record of using social media to attack others,” the Court should impose limited restrictions on the ability of the parties to conduct research on potential jurors during jury selection and trial and use juror research.
Prosecutors in Trump’s current civil fraud trial in New York were careful to highlight an incident that took place the previous week. In addition to Trump’s public criticism of the state attorneys and judge in the case, he also launched a social media attack on the top clerk for the judge last week while he was at the trial last week. As a result of the attack, the judge issued a partial gag order preventing Trump from making any more comments against the court’s employees.
Notably, in the Washington, D.C. case, Chutkan is considering Smith’s request for a broader gag order. Smith is requesting a restraining order to prevent Trump from interfering with or intimidating any witnesses in the next federal trial, which is scheduled to begin on March 4. On October 16, Chutkan will hold a hearing to discuss the request for a gag order.
The prosecution primarily relied on Trump’s statements from previous trials. They also mentioned that Trump’s fans had made death threats against Judge Chutkan and the Fulton County, Georgia grand jury who indicted Trump.
Smith’s group has proposed a number of remedies, including a ban on attorneys “friending” or otherwise following potential jurors on social media. Open source research would be allowed so long as it doesn’t cross the line into “vexatious or harassing.” Prosecutors argue that the public should not have access to any personally identifiable information gleaned from this study.
Such a measure is required “not only to ensure that all parties handle sensitive juror information responsibly, but also so that the Court can assure prospective and seated jurors in this case that no party will improperly use their names or other identifying information,” Gaston and Windom wrote.
The prosecution also suggested the court examine a strategy employed in other high-profile trials, which involves jurors using non-public entrances to arrive and exit the courthouse. Smith’s group left the option open to pursue further precautions in the future.
Prosecutors claim that Trump’s legal staff is fighting against several of the reforms proposed by Smith’s group.
Smith’s team is not advocating for the extreme measure taken by a federal judge in New York in a civil case involving Trump earlier this year, in which potential jurors remained entirely anonymous to both the defence and the prosecution.
In one of the complaints New York writer E. Jean Caroll filed against the former president, Caroll claimed that Clinton raped her in a dressing room at a department store in Manhattan in the 1990s, and U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan ordered that action to be taken.
Kaplan issued the unprecedented order due to “a very strong risk that jurors will fear harassment” as a result of Trump’s previous social media fusillades against “courts, judges, various law enforcement officials and other public officials, and even individual jurors in other matters.”
In a separate criminal case involving the 2016 election, Georgia prosecutors have requested for a broad injunction forbidding the distribution of any information that could be used to identify jurors or potential jurors in the case. Several media outlets voiced their opposition to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s proposal, stating that it would limit their ability to cover the anticipated several trials of the accused.
In order to protect the anonymity of the jurors, Judge Scott McAfee imposed stringent limits on the material that may be divulged in court or by the lawyers or defendants in the case. However, he did not prohibit the media or the public from reporting on the trial, so long as they did not publish photos or drawings of the jurors.