The federal judge in the Paul Manafort financial fraud trial has denied a request to unseal the names and addresses of jurors, citing threats against him because of the case, saying that he’s under U.S. Marshal Service protection.
Judge T.S. Ellis III’s startling admission came as the 12 jurors headed home for the weekend without having decided the fate of the one-time manager of President Trump’s campaign. They will resume deliberations Monday.
A coalition of news outlets, including CNN, The New York Times, Politico, The Associated Press, BuzzFeed, NBC News and The Washington Post, asked Judge Ellis to disclose the jurors’ names and addresses. Judge Ellis denied the motion, saying that he is worried about their “peace and safety,” citing threats lodged against him.
“I have no reason to believe that if those names are unsealed there won’t be threats against them,” Judge Ellis said of the jurors.
The revelation came in a hearing outside of jurors’ presence. Judge Ellis added that the U.S. Marshals Service is protecting him “everywhere I go.” He noted jurors don’t have similar protections.
“I’ve received criticism and threats,” the judge said. “I’d imagine they would too.”
Mr. Manafort is facing 18 counts of bank and tax fraud after a nearly three-week trial. It is the first case to emerge from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion and the Trump campaign. However, the charges filed against Mr. Manafort relate to events that occurred before he helmed the campaign.
Pundits and politicians have weighed in on the Manafort case since he was indicted last fall, comments that have increased in the past three weeks, fueled by nonstop media coverage of the trial. Even President Trump spoke out on the case Friday, calling the case “very sad.”
“I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad,” the president told reporters before boarding Air Force One. “When you look at what’s going on there, I think it’s a very sad day for our country. He happens to be a very good person. I think it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort.”
Much of the media attention has been focused on Judge Ellis’ sparring with prosecutors from Mr. Mueller’s team. He has berated them for moving too slowly, introducing tangential evidence and even their facial expressions.
That attention, the judge said, is why he won’t release jurors’ names.
“I had no idea this case would excite these emotions, I can tell you that frankly,” Judge Ellis said Friday. “I don’t feel right if I release their names.”
Publicly outing jurors has been a hot debate between lawmakers and journalists in recent years. Colorado and Texas have enacted laws prohibiting attorneys and court staff from releasing jurors’ information. In California, jurors’ names and addresses are sealed until the end of a trial and then can only be disclosed if there is good cause.
Other states have adopted more media-friendly laws. In 2015, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled jurors in criminal cases must be made public at the completion of a trial.
The reason, the Massachusetts justices said was “to ensure and instill public confidence and trust in our system of justice and in the integrity and fairness of its proceedings.”
Virgil Lee Sinclair Jr., a retired Ohio Common Pleas Court Judge and courthouse security expert, said he is not surprised the Manafort trial has resulted in threats to Judge Ellis.
“Threats are part of the business,” he said. “They tend to be more involved if it is a highly-charged or political case because you have people angry about what is going on and other people who have mental health issues.”
The U.S. Marshal’s Service, which protects the nation’s roughly 3,000 federal judges, said they investigated 2,357 threats and inappropriate communications against members of the judiciary in 2016, according to the most recently available statistics. That’s nearly three times more than the 826 threats they assessed in 2015.
Judge Sinclair said he has received his own share of threats — including someone who would mail him photos of deadly snakes — but that it’s difficult to separate mere cranks from someone who poses a serious danger.
“They all have mental health issues, but someone won’t act out on it,” he said. “The problem is you just don’t know.”