Court Battles

Stone judge under pressure over calls for new trial

Bonnie Cash

The judge in Roger Stone’s case is under pressure as she considers whether to grant President Trump’s longtime associate a new trial based on allegations of juror bias. 

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee whose ruling is expected soon, is facing a concerted campaign from Trump and his media allies who claim that Stone’s case was prejudiced by politics.

This new chapter in Stone’s legal saga concerns whether the jury forewoman’s failure to disclose her opposition to Trump tainted Stone’s guilty verdict. Stone’s lawyers say that entitles the 67-year-old right-wing provocateur to a fresh trial. 

Jackson held a hearing on Stone’s motion for a new trial on Tuesday, in which she limited public access to protect the privacy of the jurors. But even as Jackson conducted the hearing, Trump again took to Twitter to weigh in on the proceedings.

“There has rarely been a juror so tainted as the forewoman in the Roger Stone case. Look at her background. She never revealed her hatred of ‘Trump’ and Stone,” Trump said in a tweet. “She was totally biased, as is the judge. Roger wasn’t even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch!” 

Jackson, for her part, appeared skeptical at Tuesday’s hearing when Stone’s defense team advanced a similar, though more nuanced, line of argument. 

After Tomeka Hart’s role as the jury foreperson became publicly known earlier this month, several of her social media posts criticizing Trump were uncovered.

Seth Ginsberg, an attorney for Stone, argued that Hart’s lack of candor misled the defense team, which might have struck her from the jury had they fully known her political views.

“I think it’s problematic that she failed to disclose all of those posts in response to the prior question, because I think that deprived the Court and the parties of important information that would have supported a valid cause challenge,” Ginsberg said.

But Jackson seemed wary of connecting Trump opposition to an inability to fairly adjudicate Stone’s criminal case.

“Having an opinion about the president on some or all of his policies does not mean she cannot fairly judge evidence against Roger Stone,” Jackson said, referring to the juror whose social media activity has come under review.

The public pressure from Trump and his allies is just the latest in a series of attacks from the president on the judiciary and has alarmed those who say his actions threaten the independence of the U.S. judicial system. Those concerns have been amplified during Stone’s trial, conviction, sentencing and now the maneuvering over whether he should get a new trial.

Jackson and her defenders have tried to dial down the political temperature around Stone’s proceedings — but to minimal effect. 

Trump’s Twitter blast Tuesday came just moments after Jackson rebuked the president for raising the juror’s public profile and opening her up to harassment. While the timing may have been coincidental, it underscored the tension at the heart of the Stone proceedings.

In addition to scrutiny from the president and his allies, Jackson’s supervision of the case has also been closely watched by those who fear the rule of law has eroded under Trump. For the president’s critics, Stone’s legal saga has become a test case for whether those with White House connections receive preferential legal treatment.

Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Trump’s involvement in Stone’s case — which included impugning the trial prosecutors, the judge and a juror — was another example of Trump abusing his power. Abuse of power was the basis for one of the two ultimately House-passed impeachment articles.

“He thinks he’s above the law,” Pelosi told reporters. “He has no respect for the rule of law.” 

Jackson sentenced Stone last week to three years and four months in prison for lying to Congress about his contacts with the 2016 Trump campaign about WikiLeaks and for pressuring a potential witness not to cooperate with congressional investigators.

The four-person prosecution team quit after their recommended sentence of seven to nine years in prison was overruled by top Justice Department officials. That move sparked questions about whether the White House pressured the department to seek a lighter sentence. 

And it led Attorney General William Barr to take the extraordinary step of calling on Trump to stop publicly commenting on Justice Department cases, as Barr dismissed claims that the White House had influenced the decision. 

Still, despite Barr’s denial, critics said top department officials’ decision to overrule career prosecutors on behalf of Trump’s longtime adviser was evidence of untoward meddling in the American justice system.

Trump, for his part, has not heeded Barr’s call.

In the run-up to Stone’s sentencing hearing, Trump and several allied Fox News personalities blasted Jackson for alleged anti-Trump bias.

“Is this the Judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure? How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!” Trump said Feb. 11, retweeting an MSNBC legal contributor’s post about Jackson.

It is unclear when Jackson will issue her decision, but the expectation is that the judge will move soon. If Jackson denies Stone’s request, the longtime Trump ally will head to prison, barring any unforeseen move.

But the controversy over his sentence is unlikely to end. Trump has said he has not made a decision over whether to pardon Stone, but will watch how the case unfolds.

The high stakes of Jackson’s coming decision were highlighted earlier this month.

Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington where Jackson sits, defended her colleague from Trump’s attacks.

In a rare statement, Howell, an Obama appointee, rejected the notion that outside pressure would influence Jackson’s sentencing of Stone.

“The Judges of this court base their sentencing decision on careful consideration of the actual record in the case before them; the applicable sentencing guidelines and statutory factors; the submission of the parties, the Probation Office of the victims; and their own judgement and experience,” Howell’s statement read.

“Public criticism or pressure is not a factor,” she added.


Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Nancy Pelosi Paul Manafort Roger Stone William Barr
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