Judge Merchan orders media to not report identifying information about anonymous jurors in Trump 'hush money' trial

 April 19, 2024

Many in the media cheered when New York Judge Juan Merchan imposed a gag order on former President Donald Trump and warned him against exposing or intimidating potential jurors in his "hush money" criminal trial.

Yet, it appears that it is that same media who are guilty of exposing and intimidating jurors through the in-depth coverage of the jury selection process, so much so that the judge just ordered the media to be more cautious about the potentially identifying information they reveal, according to the Associated Press.

Merchan specifically instructed journalists to not report on the current and prior employment information of jurors and further requested that they use "common sense" and refrain from providing detailed "physical descriptions" or other individually identifying information that might publicly expose the otherwise anonymous jury members.

The media, not Trump, exposed and intimidated a juror

Judge Merchan previously imposed a gag order on former President Trump that, in part, prohibits him from attempting to expose or intimidate jurors in the case, and the AP reported that Merchan even extended the order to include Trump's attorneys as being barred from publicly identifying the jury members.

And on Tuesday, according to The Hill, the judge specifically called out Trump for making gestures and "audible" reactions while jurors were questioned and told the former president and his attorneys, "I wont tolerate that. I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom. I want to make that crystal clear."

On Thursday, that order was essentially also extended to include the media after one of the already selected jurors asked to be excused after her family and friends were able to figure out that she was on the jury based on information reported by the media, which led her to tell the judge, "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."

That development concerning the identity of "Juror No. 2" prompted The Washington Post to rhetorically ask: "Are some reporters putting Trump jurors at risk?" given how multiple media outlets reported specific information about the woman's current and past employers and occupational expertise, among other information that resulted in her anonymity being shattered.

That anonymity is threatened, according to Merchan, "when so much information is put out there that is very, very easy for anyone to identify who the jurors are."

"There’s a reason why this is an anonymous jury"

The New York Times reported that Judge Merchan explicitly ordered the media to not report the jurors' answers to questions about their current and past employers and to "simply apply common sense" when reporting on the physical descriptions or other potentially identifying traits, such as a particular accent, of the jurors.

"There’s a reason why this is an anonymous jury, and we’ve taken the measures we have taken," Merchan said. "It kind of defeats the purpose of that when so much information is put out there."

He went on to acknowledge that "the press can write about anything the attorney and the courts discuss and anything you observe us do," but also reminded everybody that he has the authority to keep certain juror information secret, such as their employment, and suggested that "if you can’t stick to that, we’re going to have to see if there is anything else we can do to keep the jurors safe."

Media organizations may challenge judge's authority to restrict reporting

The Times reported that some legal experts have said that Judge Merchan's restrictions on the media are "constitutionally suspect," and the AP noted that some media organizations are considering filing a protest motion against the apparent limitations on their First Amendment rights.

University of North Carolina law professor William Marshall pointed to a 1976 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a judge's order that barred the media from reporting on information revealed in open court and told The Times, "The presumption against prior restraint is incredibly high in First Amendment law," and added, "It’s even higher when it’s publishing something that is already a matter of public record."

However, New York criminal defense attorney Ron Kuby told the AP that Merchan's order was likely within his authority to protect the anonymity of jurors, and said, "There are actions the judge could take. Courts have extraordinary powers to protect jurors from tampering and intimidation. It is really where a court’s power is at its peak."

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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