Friday, May 17, 2024

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Trump Trial Day 2: Judge Scolds Trump Over Juror Intimidation in Hush Money Case as 7 Jurors Are Selected

Judge Merchan firmly rebukes Trump's courtroom behavior, highlighting the former president's repeated attempts to undermine judicial proceedings.

Trump hush money trial

As the second day of Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial in New York comes to a conclusion, the process of selecting the jury has gained momentum, with six jurors chosen by the end of the day. New York State Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan expressed his intention to have attorneys deliver opening statements by Monday, signaling his desire to expedite the proceedings. However, the realization of this timeline hinges on the lawyers’ ability to efficiently screen the remaining prospective jurors to form the complete panel.

The jury selection process, a crucial component of ensuring a fair trial, has not been without its challenges. Judge Merchan has had to navigate the complexities of dealing with a defendant who has repeatedly showed contempt for the justice system. 

The jury selection process is now one-third complete, with the judge seeking a panel of 12 jurors, plus an additional six alternates—a larger than usual contingent. This move signals the court’s intent to ensure a fair and comprehensive evaluation of the evidence.

As the jury selection process continues, the pressure mounts on Trump’s legal team. Under New York law, each side is allowed 10 peremptory challenges, which enable them to remove a prospective juror without providing a reason. Thus far, Trump’s team has used six of their challenges, while the prosecution has only used four. This disparity leaves the former president’s side with less flexibility in shaping the composition of the jury.

The selected jurors represent a diverse cross-section of New York residents, each bringing their unique perspectives and experiences to the trial. Among them is juror B146, a twice-married salesman who identifies as a Republican. While expressing his belief that he could be an impartial juror, he also acknowledged the challenge of completely refraining from discussing the case with his wife. Another juror, B377, an unmarried East Village resident, revealed that she had previously dated a lawyer, a disclosure that appeared to displease Trump.

Trump’s Behavior Rebuked by Judge Merchan

Trump’s behavior in the courtroom has already been a point of contention, with the judge sternly warning the former president to refrain from intimidating potential jurors. The incident in question involved a prospective juror who Trump’s attorney attempted to dismiss based on a social media post the defense claimed showed her celebrating Biden’s 2020 victory. However, the woman clarified that she was actually honoring healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Judge Merchan sternly rebuked the former president’s lead attorney, Todd Blanche, saying, “Your client was uttering something in the direction of the juror. I won’t tolerate that. I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom. I want to make that crystal clear. Take a minute with your client.” He then instructed Blanche to speak with Trump about his behavior. Blanche told the judge that Trump was “aware” after a hushed conversation with him.

This is not the first instance of Trump’s disruptive conduct in a courtroom setting. Recently, he has been reprimanded by judges in other cases for his inappropriate behavior. During E. Jean Carroll’s defamation trial against him in January, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan had to warn Trump after he was heard heckling Carroll while she was on the witness stand. Judge Kaplan was forced to threaten to exclude Trump from the proceedings, stating that his “right to be here” could be forfeited if he persisted in his disruptive and contemptuous behavior towards Carroll.

The jury ultimately found Trump liable and ordered him to pay Carroll over $80 million in damages. Similarly, during his civil fraud trial involving the Trump Organization, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur F. Engoron repeatedly reminded Trump to maintain decorum in the courtroom and cease his irritated outbursts.

The People of the State of New York v. Donald Trump

The trial at hand, which centers on allegations that Trump falsified business documents to cover up hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election, has already been subject to a limited gag order. Judge Merchan has displayed little tolerance for Trump’s typical courtroom antics, swiftly interjecting when necessary to ensure civility during the proceedings.

As the trial progresses, the witnesses called by the prosecution are expected to shed light on the alleged misconduct relating to the alleged hush money payment. Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass outlined the key figures set to testify, including “a tabloid publisher,” an “adult film star,” and Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer who has pleaded guilty to several federal crimes. The anticipated testimony of these individuals is likely to play a pivotal role in the jury’s assessment of the case.

Meanwhile, Trump’s frustration with the proceedings has spilled over onto social media. In an all caps laden post on Truth Social, he accused Judge Merchan of bias and claimed that the trial was “RIGGED” and “UNCONSTITUTIONAL.” He further demanded the removal of the gag order, asserting his desire to speak out and respond to what he perceives as lies directed towards him.

As the historic criminal trial of a former U.S. president unfolds in New York, the stakes have never been higher for the American justice system. Unlike Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, which culminated in a resignation and pardon, Trump stands as the first former president to face criminal indictment—a sobering testament to the gravity of this criminal trial.

While the current case centers on the relatively narrow charges of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment, it is crucial to recognize that these allegations are merely the tip of the iceberg for Donald Trump. 

His alleged crimes extend far beyond the hush money payments, encompassing the mishandling of classified documents under the Espionage Act, his alleged orchestration of the January 6th insurrection, and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. 

As jury selection drags on, the task of securing an impartial panel has become increasingly difficult. Trump’s well-documented history of disruptive courtroom antics, from intimidating potential jurors to heckling witnesses, has compelled the presiding judge to take forceful measures to maintain order.

This trial stands as a crucial test for the resilience of the American justice system in the face of a defendant who has repeatedly sought to undermine it. The outcome will not only determine Trump’s personal fate but also serve as a barometer for the system’s ability to administer equal justice, regardless of the defendant’s political stature, wealth, or willingness to flout the rule of law.