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Josh Gerstein

Court orders anonymous jury in civil suit over alleged rape by Trump

The civil trial is scheduled to start April 25 at a federal courthouse in lower Manhattan just a few blocks from where a grand jury has been hearing evidence against Donald Trump in a probe stemming from a payment of hush money in 2016 to porn star Stormy Daniels. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s recent call for “protest” against his potential indictment on a hush-money-related charge helped spur a judge’s decision Thursday to impose an unusual level of secrecy around the jury that will serve in an upcoming civil trial in New York over a rape allegation against the former president.

Citing “a very strong risk that jurors will fear harassment,” U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan ordered the use of an “anonymous” jury for the trial set to begin next month on writer E. Jean Carroll’s civil suit alleging that Trump raped her in a dressing room at a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s.

Trump has vehemently denied the allegation, including through a crude counterattack where he asserted that Carroll was “not my type.”

Neither Carroll nor Trump asked Kaplan, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, to block access to the jurors’ names, addresses and similar information. Kaplan raised the idea on his own and announced Thursday he will impose the secrecy despite objections from two news outlets: the Associated Press and the New York Daily News.

The secrecy measure is typically reserved for criminal cases involving alleged mafia or drug kingpins. But Kaplan cited a series of alleged threats of violence by Trump, his public attacks on jurors in other cases and various reports describing Trump’s role in fomenting the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, as well as his statement Saturday urging his followers to protest what he said was his looming arrest in a probe led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

“Mr. Trump’s quite recent reaction to what he perceived as an imminent threat of indictment by a grand jury sitting virtually next door to this Court was to encourage ‘protest’ and to urge people to ‘take our country back,’” Kaplan wrote in an 18-page decision. “That reaction reportedly has been perceived by some as incitement to violence. And it bears mention that Mr. Trump repeatedly has attacked courts, judges, various law enforcement officials and other public officials, and even individual jurors in other matters.”

Even as he recounted a litany of provocative statements by Trump, Kaplan was careful to say that he was not accusing the former president of being responsible for incitement, only that the specter created by his statements could be seen as intimidating.

“For purposes of this order, it matters not whether Mr. Trump incited violence in either a legal or a factual sense. The point is whether jurors will perceive themselves to be at risk,” the judge wrote.

Kaplan noted that neither side in the case objected to the proposed jury-secrecy order, which instructs court personnel not to reveal the names, addresses or places of employment of prospective jurors or actual jurors empaneled in the trial, scheduled to start April 25 at a federal courthouse in lower Manhattan just a few blocks from where Bragg’s grand jury has been hearing evidence against Trump in a probe stemming from a payment of hush money in 2016 to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Caroll’s lawsuit is the second she filed in connection with Trump’s alleged attack on her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in 1995 or 1996. The first, filed in 2019, accused Trump of defamation for his statements denying her rape claim. The second suit, which Kaplan has ordered be tried first, was filed in November and seeks damages against Trump directly for the alleged rape. Caroll’s lawyers have said they couldn’t file that case until last year, after New York’s Legislature extended the statute of limitations for civil suits alleging sexual abuse or harassment.

Trump’s attorneys argued that the extension was unconstitutional, but Kaplan disagreed.

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