Judge in Roger Stone Case Makes Juror Bias Hearing Public

Judge in Roger Stone Case Makes Juror Bias Hearing Public

WASHINGTON — A federal judge agreed in part on Tuesday to a request by lawyers for Roger J. Stone Jr. to open to the public a hearing on whether to grant him a new trial over allegations of juror misconduct.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who sentenced Mr. Stone to more than three years in prison on Feb. 20, said she sympathized with Mr. Stone’s lawyers, who argued to hold the hearing in public rather than behind closed doors as originally scheduled. The defense is seeking a new trial on the grounds that a member of the jury in his case concealed information showing bias against Mr. Stone during the selection process.

But Judge Jackson, of the United States District Court in Washington, said that because of the high-profile nature of the case, and the flood of attempts to identify jurors throughout the trial, additional precautions were called for to protect them. She said that to shield the jurors’ identities, she would allow members of the public and journalists only to listen to the proceedings from another room and would not allow any courtroom sketch artists to be present.

Mr. Stone was convicted last year of seven felonies for obstructing the congressional inquiry into Russia’s efforts to help President Trump’s 2016 campaign, lying to investigators under oath and trying to block the testimony of a witness whose account would have exposed his lies.

“The risk of harassment and intimidation of any of jurors who may testify in the hearing later today is extremely high,” she said. “Individuals that may be angry about Mr. Stone’s conviction may choose to take it out on them personally.”

But she said she agreed in a general sense with Mr. Stone’s lawyers that public interest in a question of impropriety within the jury would be significant, and required a public forum.

“I agree 100 percent with the general principles set out by the defendant,” she said.

The proceedings then turned to the substantive question of whether Mr. Stone was entitled to a new trial.

As part of their last-ditch attempts to keep Mr. Stone out of prison, defense lawyers filed a motion asking for a new trial on the basis of what they call newly discovered information of juror misconduct during Mr. Stone’s nine-day trial. The jurors convicted Mr. Stone in November after less than two days of deliberation on seven counts of lying under oath, tampering with a witness and obstructing a congressional investigation.

Mr. Stone’s lawyers claimed that the unnamed juror “attempted to cover up evidence that would directly contradict her false claims of impartiality” during the jury selection process, according to court filings.

Although the court filings identifying the juror are sealed, the defense appears to be leveling accusations against Tomeka Hart, a program officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Ms. Hart identified herself as the jury forewoman in a Facebook post after Attorney General William P. Barr reversed a sentencing recommendation by four career prosecutors who had tried the case earlier this month.

The prosecutors had asked that Mr. Stone be incarcerated for seven to nine years in prison, following department policy that states that advisory sentencing guidelines should generally govern sentencing requests. Mr. Barr directed the department to seek a more lenient sentence, prompting the prosecutors to withdraw from the case in protest.

In a second sentencing memorandum, a new prosecution team asked for a prison term, but for “far less” time without suggesting a specific length.

“It pains me to see the DOJ now interfere with the hard work of the prosecutors,” Ms. Hart said on Facebook. “They acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity and respect for our system of justice.”

The judge’s ruling on whether Tuesday’s hearing could be public took place after repeated attacks by the president on the fairness of the trial.

“It’s my strong opinion that the forewoman of the jury — the woman who was in charge of the jury — is totally tainted,” the president said on Thursday at a graduation ceremony for the Hope for Prisoners program in Las Vegas. “She was a anti-Trump activist.”

“Now it looks like the fore person in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias,” he wrote on Twitter on Feb. 13, a week before Mr. Stone was sentenced.

The jurors answered questions orally and, in a special precaution designed to identify bias, also filled out lengthy questionnaires. Among other questions, they were asked whether they had any opinion about the president, whether that opinion would make it difficult for them to be fair and whether they had ever made comments for public consumption about the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. Stone was one of six former Trump aides who were charged as a result of that investigation.

Particularly after Ms. Hart’s identity became known, many of Mr. Trump’s allies scoured her social media accounts, pointing to posts they said were openly critical of the president.

Mr. Trump has also leveled criticism against Judge Jackson directly. On Tuesday, he renewed his attacks while traveling in India, sharing a post on Twitter from Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News legal analyst, that read: “Roger Stone judge’s bias may have jeopardized entire trial.”

Last week, defense lawyers asked Judge Jackson to recuse herself from the case, claiming her remarks during Thursday’s sentencing showed that she would not be impartial when she ruled on their claims about juror misconduct, citing Judge Jackson’s comment that the jurors “served with integrity under difficult circumstances.”

But on Sunday, Judge Jackson rejected that motion, saying she had been scrupulously fair. She said she resolved both important evidentiary questions and bond questions in Mr. Stone’s favor “even after he took to social media to intimidate the court” and violated her gag orders. After he was indicted, Mr. Stone posted a photograph of the judge with the image of cross hairs near her head — an action she said endangered her and other court personnel.

Interspersed with his criticism of the trial, Mr. Trump has hinted that he would consider a pardon for Mr. Stone depending on the rest of his experience navigating the justice system, which could include an appeal. The president vowed to “let this process play out” after Mr. Stone’s sentencing on Thursday, but said he may intervene if he felt unsatisfied that Mr. Stone was treated fairly.

At the sentencing hearing, Judge Jackson said it was fortunate that Mr. Stone’s punishment was left to a neutral judge. In an obvious reference to the president, she added: “Not someone who has a longstanding friendship with the defendant. Not someone whose political career was aided by the defendant. And surely not someone who has personal involvement in the events underlying the case.”

Without naming the president, Judge Jackson referred to “entirely inappropriate” comments made about the case by partisan onlookers, adding “there was nothing unfair, phony or disgraceful about the investigation or the prosecution.”

In denying the defense’s request that she recuse herself, Judge Jackson said the motion was a waste of the court’s resources and aimed only at casting unwarranted doubt on the case.

“If the parties could move to disqualify every judge who furrows his brow at one side or the other before ruling, the entire court system would come to a standstill,” she wrote.

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