Judge in Roger Stone case appears skeptical of arguments for new trial

By Clare Hymes, Stefan Becket and Amber Ali

/ CBS News

Roger Stone's lawyers request new trial

Washington — The federal judge overseeing the case of Roger Stone appeared skeptical of arguments by his legal team that Stone deserves a new trial because the foreperson of the jury that convicted him was politically biased and "concealed evidence" during the jury selection process.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson oversaw two hearings in U.S. District Court in Washington on Tuesday regarding a motion to grant Stone a new trial. The first hearing was meant to decide whether the second session, on the motion itself, should be sealed or open to the public. Jackson determined the public had an interest in the proceedings, but dismissed members of the public and the press from the courtroom while allowing them to listen from another room.

After several hours, Jackson revealed she had called back the jurors in anticipation of the hearing and all but two were at the courthouse. The defense and prosecution teams were then each allowed to call one juror for questioning about whether the foreperson demonstrated any bias over the course of the trial and deliberations. The foreperson also appeared and fielded questions from both sides.

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"There are unique circumstances here," Jackson said, citing a "very public ongoing effort to disrupt the prosecutors and jurors themselves." She did not make a decision on the motion on Tuesday.

Both jurors — identified only as Juror A and Juror B — testified that none of the members felt pressured to reach any specific verdict, and that the foreperson did not impose her views on anyone during the process. In fact, they said all members of the jury carefully addressed each element of the charges and every juror was given the opportunity to share their views.

The foreperson said she knew who Stone was before the case but couldn't remember posting about him on social media. She said she was active on social media but set her Twitter and Facebook accounts to private after the trial concluded last November. Asked about her answers on the jury questionnaire regarding posts about Stone, the foreperson said she "didn't check yes or no because I didn't want to be deceptive."

Last week, Jackson sentenced Stone to three years and four months in prison on seven charges of witness tampering, lying to Congress and obstruction. She agreed to delay imposing the sentence until his request for a new trial was adjudicated. Stone and his attorneys alleged that the forewoman of the jury had previously posted numerous anti-Trump messages on social media and included several inaccurate answers on the questionnaire.

Earlier this month, the foreperson came to the defense of prosecutors who abruptly withdrew from the case over the Justice Department's decision to overrule their sentencing recommendation. She wrote on Facebook that the prosecutors "acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice." Conservative media figures soon unearthed more posts and tweets that were critical of the president.

Seth Ginsberg, one of Stone's attorneys, presented a litany of those posts in the second hearing Tuesday, arguing they implied "a bias against Mr. Stone." Two of the posts mentioned his client, while others concerned former special counsel Robert Mueller, Russia, Michael Flynn and congressional Republicans. Ginsberg said the foreperson's answers on her questionnaire were "misleading" at best, and that "her strong political bias" against the president "places her in a category where you can infer bias against [Stone]."

Jackson said the posts about matters outside the Stone case were irrelevant, and questioned Ginsberg's assertion that posting an article about Stone's arrest meant the person knew the intimate details of the case.

"That's what the article says. I'm asking about what she knew," Jackson said, after Ginsberg read the introduction to one of the stories. "She might have just liked the headline, who knows."

During the first hearing, Jackson said she was concerned about shining a light on the jurors in an open hearing, saying "they are deserving of the public's respect and deserve to have their privacy protected." She barred both sides from using the names or numbers of the jurors in question, including the foreperson.

"I think it is without question that this is a highly publicized case, and in a highly polarized political environment, in which the president himself has shown a spotlight on the jury through his Twitter platform," Jackson said.

The president seemed to make Jackson's point for her as the hearing was ongoing.

"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. She was totally biased, as is the judge," Mr. Trump tweeted. "Roger wasn't even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch!"

First published on February 25, 2020 / 4:39 PM

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