Roger Stone has filed a motion asking the presiding judge to recuse herself over concerns about her partiality after she made comments praising the “integrity” of jurors during Stone’s sentencing hearing.
Attorneys for Stone, an associate of President Donald Trump, filed a motion (pdf) on Friday asking Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee, to recuse herself because she praised the jurors’ “integrity” before deciding on Stone’s request for a new trial that rests on the issue of whether the jurors demonstrated integrity and were impartial.
Stone had asked for a new trial on Feb. 14, a day after his team raised concerns over potential bias from a juror who voted to convict the Trump associate. Stone’s legal team alleged in its motion that an unnamed juror misled the court regarding her ability to remain “unbiased and fair” and that the juror attempted to cover up evidence that would contradict her claims that she was impartial.
This comes after media reports from Feb. 13 found that a woman who identified herself as the foreperson of the jury that convicted Stone had previously posted critical posts about Trump on social media and defended four prosecutors who withdrew from the case following the Justice Department’s decision to revise the sentencing recommendation.
Following the reports, Trump accused the foreperson of the jury of harboring “significant bias” in a Twitter post. “Now it looks like the foreperson 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,” he wrote.
In Friday’s motion, Stone’s attorneys argued that Jackson’s statement: “[t]he jurors who served with integrity under difficult circumstances cared,” would lead a “reasonably informed observer” to raise questions about the judge’s impartiality.
“Public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary is seriously jeopardized when judges … share their thoughts about the merits of pending … cases,” the lawyers wrote, citing a previous case.
The lawyers say that Jackson’s statement was premature, undermines the appearance of impartiality, and presents a strong bias for recusal.
The chief district judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Beryl Howell, had previously backed Jackson before Stone’s sentencing, saying that public pressure or criticism won’t affect the judge’s judgment during sentencing.
“The judges of this court base their sentencing decisions on careful consideration of the actual record in the case before them; the applicable sentencing guidelines and statutory factors; the submissions of the parties, the Probation Office, and victims; and their own judgment and experience,” Howell said in a statement to media outlets. “Public criticism or pressure is not a factor.”
Stone was sentenced on Feb. 20 to three years and four months in prison for several charges including lying to a congressional committee that was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The case garnered significant attention and controversy at the Justice Department after it announced revised sentencing recommendations for Stone. Prosecutors originally recommended seven to nine years in prison but later asked for “a sentence of incarceration far less than 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment,” without offering a specific prison recommendation.
The department’s announcement to revise their sentencing recommendation came hours after Trump weighed in on Twitter about the seven to nine years recommendation. Justice Department’s spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told media outlets that the DOJ didn’t consult with the White House about Stone’s sentencing. She added that the decision to change the sentencing request was made before the president wrote on Twitter about it. Barr also maintained that the decision to revise the sentencing recommendation came before Trump’s Twitter post.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.