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Tuesday, July 2, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Pair of lawyers on jury of ‘12 everyday New Yorkers’ helped convict Trump: Experts

Legal experts told Courthouse News that Donald Trump’s defense erred by keeping two Manhattan lawyers on the jury panel: “You rarely have one, much less two.”

MANHATTAN (CN) — After a mixed jury of a dozen New Yorkers unanimously delivered guilty verdicts on all 34 felony counts against Donald Trump on Thursday afternoon, legal experts told Courthouse News that two lawyers on the panel may have helped other jurors see through the noise in the case and focus on the “actual law” behind the charges of falsifying business records as part of a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election.

Deliberations lasted roughly 12 hours over two days before jurors reached the unanimous guilty verdict on all 34 counts of falsifying business records, making the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in November's election the first former U.S. president in the nation's history to be convicted of a crime.

The jury — seven men and five women — included two attorneys, a software engineer, an e-commerce sales professional, a security engineer, a teacher, a speech therapist, an investment banker and a retired wealth manager.

Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Courthouse News he thought it was a mistake for Trump’s lawyers to not strike the two lawyers from the trial jury.

“That never ever happens,” he said. “You rarely have one, much less two.”

Rahmani said lawyer-jurors can be “so powerful in the deliberation room” because they’re able to set aside the irrelevant spectacle surrounding a case and instead “focus on the jury instructions and the actual law in the case.”

“When you have lawyers on the panel, they tend to sway the deliberations, so you have to make sure that they’re on your side,” he said, noting that as a trial litigator he nearly always uses peremptory strikes to remove lawyers from the potential jury pool.

“Lawyer-jurors are very, very risky unless they’re on your side,” Rahmani added.Jurors like that are high-risk, and certainly not helpful.”

The 12-person jury, empaneled six weeks ago after more than two days of jury selection, found Trump guilty of falsifying business records to cover up his reimbursement of a payment to actress Stormy during the 2016 presidential election to silence her about an extramarital tryst with Trump a decade prior.

At the request of the jurors during deliberations, Justice Juan Merchan reread his lengthy instructions about how they were to consider evidence and what can be inferred from it.

"You must set aside any personal opinions or bias you might have in favor of or against the defendant, and you must not allow any such opinions to influence your verdict,” the judge instructed.

Jurors were not given a written copy of those instructions, per state court rules, but the judge was allowed to reread the instructions out loud. Many jurors were seen writing notes while Merchan spoke.

They also asked to review transcripts of testimony from prosecution witnesses, Michael Cohen and David Pecker, whom the Manhattan district attorney accused of conspiring with Trump to bury negative publicity around the 2016 presidential election.

Attorney Renato Stabile told Courthouse News he believed that Trump’s defense pinned hope on a holdout juror prompting a mistrial, and believed the two lawyers on the slate of jurors “were going to parse the legal issues very carefully for the rest of the jury.”

“I'm not sure that happened in this case,” Stabile said Friday. “While the jury asked for a readback of the jury instructions, I ultimately think that the instructions … were too complicated for even the lawyers to fully understand and dissect.”

Stabile said the other jurors, including would-be holdouts, are likely to look to lawyers as leaders, even if they practice civil litigation, not criminal law.

“For that reason, I tend to avoid keeping lawyers on any jury unless I am very confident that they will be on my side,” he said. “In this case, I believe that political affiliation was the ‘super factor’ in jury selection and was significantly more important than any other juror characteristic."

Juror No. 3 was identified as a corporate lawyer originally from Oregon. During jury selection, he told the court that he is “actually not super familiar with the other charges” Trump faced.

“I don’t really follow the news that closely; a little embarrassing to say,” said the juror, who told the court he gets his news from The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Google.

The other lawyer on the panel was Juror No. 7, a middle-aged civil litigator who is originally from North Carolina.

He told the court he didn't know “anything about election finance” and said he was ambivalent about Trump, liking some things about him but disliking others.

“I’m not sure I know anything about his character,” he added. “I’m a litigator, so I take the law seriously and I take the judge’s instructions very seriously.” He also said he was a regular listener of the New York Public Radio station, WNYC.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on Thursday credited the jury for reaching a verdict “based on the evidence and the law, and the evidence and the law alone."

"Over the course of the past several weeks, a jury of 12 everyday New Yorkers was presented with overwhelming evidence — including invoices, checks, bank statements, audio recordings, phone logs, text messages and direct testimony from 22 witnesses — that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Trump illegally falsified 34 New York business records,” Bragg said in a statement announcing the verdict Thursday.

Throughout the trial at the New York Supreme criminal courthouse in Lower Manhattan, Justice Merchan and the New York Office of Court Administration took special measures to ensure the jurors remained anonymous. The judge specifically prohibited the release of their names or addresses, without objection from Trump’s lawyers.

After delivering the guilty verdicts on Thursday, three black Ford Transit passenger vans with tinted windows, appearing to be carrying the anonymous jury, drove the wrong way up a one-way street away from the frenzied scene around the courthouse.

Trump's lawyers have vowed to appeal. He is set to be sentenced on July 11, days before the delegates of the Republican Party are expected to confirm him as the party’s nomination for presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In March, he moved to have the proceedings indefinitely adjourned due to “prejudicial pretrial publicity,” claiming that the juror pool in Manhattan had been “bombarded” with negative media coverage of Trump which tainted his odds at a fair trial.

On the heels of the verdict Thursday, donors contributed a daily record of nearly $35 million to Trump’s effort for a second term as president, his campaign announced Friday.

Throughout the trial, Trump regularly opined to reporters that he should have been out campaigning but was in court instead for what he called a “a very unfair trial.”

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Categories / Criminal, Politics, Trials

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