Former president of the Memphis City School Board of Commissioners Tomeka Hart on Wednesday publicly acknowledged that she was the foreperson on the jury that convicted President Donald Trump’s former advisor Roger Stone on charges of obstruction of justice, lying to federal investigators, and witness tampering.
Hart–who defended the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who prosecuted the case and resigned after the Department of Justice stepped in to recommend Stone receive a more lenient prison sentence–was later “revealed” to hold negative views of the president, outraging conservative commentators who began questioning whether Stone received a fair trial. Lawyers suggested, however, that Stone’s lawyers should a better job vetting Hart.
“I want to stand up for Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando, and Jonathan Kravis — the prosecutors on the Roger Stone trial,” Hart wrote in a social media post that was shared with CNN. “It pains me to see the DOJ now interfere with the hard work of the prosecutors. They acted with the utmost intelligence, integrity, and respect for our system of justice.”
President Trump immediately took aim at Hart and the Department of Justice for what he perceived as another error in the adjudication of Stone’s case.
“Now it looks like the fore person [sic] in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias. Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the ‘Justice’ Department,” President Trump tweeted Thursday morning.
Now it looks like the fore person in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias. Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the “Justice” Department. @foxandfriends @FoxNews
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2020
The president’s sentiments were echoed throughout the conservative mediascape.
Oh wow. I'm on the social media profile of this "juror," and she's a radical, far left-wing activist.
By identifying herself, this opens up Roger Stone's trial to public scrutiny.
How in the hell did this woman ever get to oversee a case involving a Trump ally? https://t.co/4JCbz7hmxb
— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) February 13, 2020
Patrick Howley, editor-in-chief of the far-right news site Big League Politics, wrote that Hart “tweeted anti-Trump stuff and also pro-Clinton material DURING the Stone trial.” The president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani called for the matter to be investigated.
This should be investigated. If you look at Tomeka Hart’s site you will see almost all tweets are censored for sensitive content. https://t.co/OfwhvhoDQZ
— Rudy W. Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) February 13, 2020
Alan Dershowitz and Andrew Napolitano said Stone should get a new trial.
All civil libertarians who care about non partisan justice should support a new trial for Roger Stone based on this new information about a biased juror. Let’s hear from real, non partisan, civil libertarians. https://t.co/3jDQ6Kbjuo
— Alan Dershowitz (@AlanDersh) February 13, 2020
Others pointed out that Hart was a former Democratic congressional candidate.
FWIW, the juror is also a former Democratic congressional candidate in Tennessee https://t.co/G4i9bnSklQ
— Josh Gerstein (@joshgerstein) February 13, 2020
But allegations that Hart’s presence on the jury is dispositive proof that the verdict was not impartial appears attenuated at best.
While Hart did express disfavor with President Trump, she did not appear to address Stone’s culpability at any point. Additionally, Hart’s “newly revealed” social media posts were and still are publicly accessible, meaning there’s no indication that she took steps to conceal her political views from the Court during jury selection.
Some believe Stone’s lawyers simply should have done a better job at jury selection.
Facts: Roger Stone's attorneys had the capacity to question jurors about potential bias, to investigate their social media accounts, to move to strike if they weren't impartial and to exercise peremptory strikes if the judge didn't remove them. https://t.co/MM9c9B9Kha
— Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield) February 13, 2020
“Holding political views opposed to the criminal defendant is not an automatic barrier to serving on a jury,” national security attorney Bradley P. Moss told Law&Crime. “If the Stone legal team failed to do basic due diligence during voir dire and didn’t challenge Ms. Hart’s selection at that time, that is on them, not the government. These social media posts and records of political campaigns are a matter of public record: this was not rocket science.”
Her bias was already known. She disclosed her congressional run during jury selection. Her social media posts were publicly accessible.
Blame Stone’s lawyers. https://t.co/QiOQ72fJdp
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) February 13, 2020
Trial attorney and NBC legal commentator Katie Phang had a similar take, claiming the conservative carping was positioning Trump to pardon Stone.
Trump is just trying to add another excuse for his pardon of #RogerStone.
Problem is, this juror was vetted during the jury selection process & was seated. So unless there was misconduct on the juror’s part, this is just more Trump whining. https://t.co/IBqGtESeKn pic.twitter.com/NMkqZTkQ4T
— Katie Phang (@KatiePhang) February 13, 2020
Stone’s lawyers did lodge some objections to jurors during jury selection.
One potential juror that Stone’s attorneys motioned to strike from the juror pool was a woman who worked in the Obama administration as a communications director for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected the motion by Stone’s attorneys:
At the outset, Jackson made clear that having an opinion about Trump or working for the federal government were not disqualifying factors for jurors indicating bias against Stone.
Still, Stone’s lawyers quickly moved to strike from serving as a juror a woman who said she previously worked in former President Barack Obama’s administration and her husband worked at the Justice Department. Jackson shot that effort down, saying the woman had credibly denied having an opinion on the Stone case.
This was not the only motion to strike that Judge Jackson rejected, and it was known that “many” prospective jurors had expressed opinions on Trump.
Judge Jackson so far has denied 3 motions to strike for cause (out of 4 potential jurors questioned) saying: "At this point Donald Trump is the chief executive for whom these individuals work."
— Megan Mineiro (@MMineiro_CNS) November 5, 2019
One prospective juror interestingly used Stone’s own words (a “dirty-trickster”) to describe the defendant.
Stone’s attorneys motioned to strike for cause. Judge Jackson said she believed the PJ that he could be fair and impartial but “in an abundance of caution” sent him home.
— Megan Mineiro (@MMineiro_CNS) November 5, 2019
[image via NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images]