Biased Judge Merchan Gags Media from Reporting on Jury’s Possible Biases

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(Headline USA) The far-left judge in Donald Trump’s Manhattan business documents trial does not just want the former president to keep the courtroom details under wraps. He is now demanding that media covering the unprecedented trial follow his parameters, as well.

Judge Juan Merchan 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—even though the information in question may be significant in revealing their potential biases for or against the famous defendant.

Merchan acted after one juror was dismissed when she expressed concerns about participating in the trial after details about her became publicly known from media reports that offered descriptive details of those selected.

The names of the jurors are supposed to be a secret, but 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.

Despite the setback, 12 jurors were seated by the end of Thursday.

However, Merchan directed journalists present in the courthouse 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.

Some media organizations were considering whether to protest having that onus placed on them—a highly irregular demand that had potentially chilling implications for transparency, due process and free speech.

Generally, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars judges from ordering journalists not to disclose what they hear and see in courtrooms open to the public, though there are exceptions, such as when military security is at stake.

New York criminal defense lawyer Ron Kuby said that while judges typically can’t control what the media reports, other options are available to protect juror anonymity, including restricting what reporters see and hear in the courtroom.

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

The court action underscored the difficulty of 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 whom to choose.

New York state law requires trial attorneys to get the names of jurors, but the judge has ordered the lawyers in Trump’s case not to disclose those names publicly. The jurors’ names haven’t been mentioned in court during three days of jury selection.

Still, enough personal information about the jurors was revealed in court that people might be able to identify them anyway.

Some news organizations described details including what Manhattan neighborhoods potential jurors lived in, what they did for a living, what academic degrees they had earned, how many children they had, what countries they grew up in and what their spouses did for a living.

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.

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.

Kuby said the ability of lawyers at Trump’s trial to research the backgrounds 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.”

Merchan’s own biases have become a major point of contention, with his latest decree perhaps reinforcing for some his willingness to bend normal protocol in situations where he deems that the ends justify the means.

He was exposed for having given donations to the Biden campaign during the 2020 election, as well as other Democratic causes, and his daughter was revealed to oversee a marketing firm that includes as its clients Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Vice President Kamala Harris, among others.

The firm has received millions of dollars pushing out messaging that promotes the idea of Trump being found guilty.

Rather than recuse himself, however, Merchan expanded a controversial gag order requiring that Trump desist in talking about the family members of court officials or risk being held in contempt.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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