WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Thursday rejected Roger Stone’s demand for a new trial, ruling in a blistering opinion that the jury forewoman in Stone’s trial was not biased against President Trump’s longtime political confidant.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that while the juror might have expressed strong opinions about Trump on social media, she did not lie in answering a pretrial questionnaire probing potential jurors for bias or have a prejudicial view of Stone.
The assumption that the forewoman could not fairly consider the evidence against Stone based on her views about Trump “is not supported by any facts or data and it is contrary to controlling legal precedent,” Jackson wrote in an 81-page opinion. The judge called Stone’s motion “a tower of indignation” with “little of substance holding it up.”
“While the social media communications may suggest that the juror has strong opinions about certain people or issues, they do not reveal that she had an opinion about Roger Stone, which is the opinion that matters,” Jackson wrote.
She also took Stone’s lawyers to task for not doing basic research on the juror before she was allowed to join the panel.
“The information in the motion could have easily been found with the exercise of due diligence: by posing a few pointed follow-up questions in person, or by using the same search engines that quickly brought the public social media posts to light the day the juror identified herself to the rest of the world,” Jackson wrote. “The evidence the defense claims was critical was never ‘concealed’ – it was a few clicks of a mouse away.”
The ruling came months after Trump issued public statements stoking controversy over Stone’s case by attacking the integrity of the judge, jurors, federal prosecutors and the judicial system. The attacks were punctuated by the president’s blasting of the forewoman and Jackson as biased before and during a February hearing – despite warnings by Attorney General William Barr to stop tweeting about Justice Department criminal cases.
“There has rarely been a juror so tainted as the forewoman in the Roger Stone case,” Trump tweeted during a hearing earlier this year in which federal prosecutors were defending the jury verdict. “Look at her background. She never revealed her hatred of ‘Trump’ and Stone. She was totally biased, as is the judge. Roger wasn’t even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch!”
Trump has hinted on Twitter that he might pardon Stone.
A jury convicted Stone in November of lying during testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017 to conceal his central role in the Trump campaign’s efforts to learn about Democratic computer files hacked by Russia and made public by WikiLeaks to damage Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton. Stone, the last defendant charged in special counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, was sentenced to three years and four months in prison, suspended pending his motion for a new trial.
At a hearing earlier this year, Jackson rebuked Trump and some conservative commentators for subjecting the juror to intimidation and harassment, while allowing Stone’s defense and federal prosecutors to question the forewoman and two other jurors about her actions.
At the hearing, Jackson drew a distinction between animus against Stone that could have denied him a fair trial and commentary on other political topics by the forewoman. Though the forewoman was not named by the court, she has publicly identified herself as Tomeka Hart, a former president of the Memphis City Schools Board of Commissioners and unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress.
Jackson pointed out that during jury selection it was she, the judge, who pressed the potential juror about her ability to remain impartial, and that Stone’s defense attorney said he had no questions.
“The defendant has not shown that the juror lied; nor has he shown that the supposedly disqualifying evidence could not have been found through the exercise of due diligence at the time the jury was selected,” Jackson wrote in her decision, which the defense is expected to appeal.
Jackson has ordered that Stone must report to prison when he is notified to do so by the U.S. Probation Office, but she added that he would have at least two weeks from the time of her ruling.
Stone defense attorney Seth Ginsberg said Hart was not truthful when she said she did not recall commenting publicly on Stone’s case. Ginsberg cited her retweet of a news article the day of Stone’s arrest in January 2019 about him and other charged Trump associates, with the comment, “Brought to you by the lock her up peanut gallery.” Ginsberg also singled out an August post in which, he said, “the foreperson equated being a supporter of Trump with being a racist.”
“She failed to disclose evidence regarding her strong views of Mr. Stone and the political issues in this case,” Ginsberg said.
Stone’s attorneys conceded during the hearing that neither they nor his jury consultants chose to run a Google search on the juror, despite knowing for days she was likely to be among the first selected, citing “cost-slash-strategic” considerations.
For her part, Hart insisted she had “no intention” of misleading the court in her responses before she was selected and said she ignored anything about the case that came to her via social media during the trial.
Prosecutors argued that Stone’s “frivolous” motion “appears to be nothing more than an attempt to fuel its public campaigns to undermine the jury’s verdict” by fanning “a conspiracy-laden narrative” that he was convicted by “a biased judge and hijacked jury.”