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Judge allows anonymous jury for Trump rape lawsuit trial

Anonymous juries are unusual, particularly outside criminal cases

E. Jean Carroll talks to reporters outside a courthouse on March 4, 2020, in New York.
E. Jean Carroll talks to reporters outside a courthouse on March 4, 2020, in New York.Seth Wenig (AP)

Jurors’ names will be kept secret at the upcoming civil trial in a writer’s rape lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, a judge ruled Thursday, citing “a very strong risk” they would otherwise face harassment and more.

Anonymous juries are unusual, particularly outside criminal cases. The Associated Press and the Daily News of New York objected to the plan to conceal the identities of jurors in the trial over columnist E. Jean Carroll’s claim — denied by Trump — that the Republican raped her in the 1990s.

But U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan said he was concerned that jurors would be subjected to unwanted attention from the media and “harassment or worse” from supporters of a president who has railed against the judicial process, or from people unhappy with any verdict that might ensue.

“On the basis of the unprecedented circumstances in which this trial will take place, including the extensive pretrial publicity and a very strong risk that jurors will fear harassment, unwanted invasions of their privacy and retaliation,” he wrote, “there is strong reason to believe that the jury needs the protection.”

Carroll’s lawyers declined to comment. Trump lawyer Alina Habba said she didn’t want jurors “to feel any outside pressure or influence” at the trial, set to start late next month.

“Anonymity will help ensure that their decision is based solely on the facts presented to them,” Habba said, insisting those facts would “irrefutably vindicate” Trump.

Besides having their names kept confidential, jurors will be transported to and from court and sequestered from the public while on breaks there.

There is a history of federal courts finding that jurors’ names are public record, and reasoning that such openness quells potential public suspicions about the selection process. But courts also have allowed exceptions to protect the jury, sometimes in cases involving allegations of terrorism, organized crime or prior jury tampering.

This winter, for example, anonymous juries were used in the Brooklyn federal criminal trials of a New Yorker convicted of fighting for the Islamic State extremist group in Syria, and of a former cabinet-level Mexican official convicted of shielding violent drug cartels from police in exchange for huge bribes.

Carroll’s case isn’t a criminal one, though it involves an alleged rape. The former Elle magazine advice columnist says Trump forced himself on her in a dressing room in a luxury department store after they met by chance and joked about trying on lingerie.

Trump denies sexually assaulting or even knowing her, while repeatedly adding that she’s “not my type.”

They were photographed together with their then-spouses at a 1987 social event, an image Trump has dismissed as a momentary encounter he doesn’t remember. He misidentified Carroll as one of his ex-wives when he was shown the picture last year while being questioned under oath in the lawsuit.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who allege they have been sexually assaulted, unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll has done.

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