The overwhelmingly liberal constituency in Washington has right-wing politicos wondering whether they truly get a jury of their peers and receive a fair trial in the nation’s capital.
Conservatives say the answer is a resounding “no” and point to this month’s conviction of Trump confidant Roger Stone.
A jury in downtown Washington on Nov. 15 found Stone guilty on all seven charges against him, including lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction.
“It is metaphysically impossible for a Trump associate to get a fair trial and draw a jury of their peers,” former Trump campaign adviser and staunch Stone supporter Michael Caputo told The Washington Times. “This city is a magnet for the far left and no one who doesn’t subscribe to those political views has a chance with a D.C. jury.”
Jury consultants dismiss claims of partisanship, saying jurors leave their political views out of the courtroom and focus on the evidence in front of them.
“Once someone is seated in a jury, they take it very, very seriously and conscious of whether they are bringing their own biases into it,” said Roy Futterman, director at DOAR, a trial consulting firm.
Mr. Caputo is not the first person to assert conservatives can’t get a fair shake from a Washington jury. Attorneys for Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort tried in vain to move their dual criminal trials out of the District of Columbia and Alexandria, Virginia, which is across the Potomac River.
Manafort’s attorneys sought to relocate the trial to more conservative Roanoke in southwest Virginia, citing extreme bias against their client in the Washington area.
The city’s demographics support those claims. Roughly 6% of D.C. voters are registered as Republicans, and the city has not had a Republican on its city council since 2009.
In the 2016 election, Mr. Trump garnered a mere 4% of the vote, while his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton commanded 91%. And, yet, he is more unpopular among D.C. voters than when he was elected. Morning Consult, a survey company, said Mr. Trump’s approval rating in the city has been 31% since taking office.
“The jury represents the community. Who sits on the jury is, in part, determined by who sits on the surrounding jurisdiction. If you are in a heavily Republican area, you won’t have a huge number of Democrats on the jury and vice-versa,” said Valerie Hans, a professor at Cornell University.
Other courthouse episodes also raised concerns among conservatives.
After former Obama-era White House counsel Gregory B. Craig was acquitted on a felony charge of lying to the Justice Department, a jury on the case publicly asked why prosecutors targeted him instead of Trump associates.
“I just could not understand why so many resources of the government were put into this when, in fact, actually the republic itself is at risk,” Michael Meyer told reporters after the trial. “I was deeply offended personally … that this particular case was brought against this particular man. I mean where are the convictions related to Russia? Why did he get to the front of the line?”
At the Stone trial, defense lawyers struggled to find potential jurors who did not work for the federal government. Among a jury pool of 80, the first four were current or government employees.
The first potential witness was a former press secretary for the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama. Her husband worked at the Justice Department unit that assisted former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, which spun out the charges against Stone. She admitted having negative views of Stone and Mr. Trump.
The woman made it past the first round after Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied a motion from Stone’s attorneys to strike her as a potential juror. She ultimately did not make the jury.
Mr. Futterman said in a town as liberal as Washington, it is critical that lawyers have a plan to cut jurors with political biases.
“You have to deal with the people who show up,” he said. “People in Washington, D.C., are government workers, journalists, etc. You know going in you are going to see a lot of Democrats. You have to go in with a strategy to deal with this. That is part of the system and you need to use your preemptive strikes and challenges.”
Studies have shown that political bias is an issue in close cases without clear evidence. In cases where guilt or innocence is less murky, political bias is less of a factor, Ms. Hans said.
“If you have clear evidence that was really ambiguous that is where your predisposition might shade your interpretation than in cases where you have pretty clear evidence,” she said.
Mr. Caputo, meanwhile, is calling for more extreme solutions. He said federal lawmakers should take a close look at whether Washington can hold a fair trial for anyone.
“This is an endemic flaw in our judicial system,” he said. “The population of Washington exists to perpetuate the facts and the follies of government.”