‘Hush Money’ Trial Judge Says Trump Will Lose Jury Access If He Violates Gag Order

The defense argued that President Trump’s political speech was necessary in the current political environment.
‘Hush Money’ Trial Judge Says Trump Will Lose Jury Access If He Violates Gag Order
Former President Donald Trump arrives at 40 Wall Street after a court hearing in New York City, on March 25, 2024. (Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images)
Catherine Yang

New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan warned former President Donald Trump that he might lose access to juror names in his upcoming trial if he continues to speak about the case in a way that the judge deems a “risk” to court proceedings.

“Defendant is hereby put on notice that he will forfeit any statutory right he may have to access jury names if he engages in any conduct that threatens the safety and integrity of the jury or the jury selection process,” the judge warned in his April 1 order expanding an existing gag order.

The Manhattan District Attorney is prosecuting the former president on 34 counts of falsifying business records, alleging a scheme to influence the 2016 elections with payments made to kill unfavorable news stories. Michael Cohen, formerly President Trump’s personal attorney, had gone on the record claiming that he made such payments to bury allegations of an affair brought forth by an adult film star, leading to an investigation.

Prosecutors had requested a gag order, which the judge granted on March 26, and had earlier requested to shield the names of jurors specifically from President Trump in a motion on which the judge had held off ruling.

After President Trump blasted the judge on social media and made mention of his daughter last week, the parties clashed and the judge expanded his gag order. President Trump had revived arguments that the judge is biased and that his daughter, who leads a political marketing firm, has represented President Trump’s political opponents, receiving millions from them, and therefore has a partisan interest in the case.

In his April 1 decision, the judge clarified that the original gag order indeed excluded the district attorney and judge. Federal courts have found that it would be unconstitutional to prohibit defendants from speaking about the court, or judge presiding over his case, and all three gag orders on President Trump have adhered to this precedent.

But family members of the judge and district attorney will now be included in the gag order, the judge decided, finding that President Trump’s speech “injects fear in those assigned or called to participate in the proceedings that not only they, but their family members as well, as ‘fair game’ for Defendant’s vitriol.”

“The threat is very real,” the judge wrote. He noted that the district attorney’s office has already argued that trial participants have expressed fear “about their own safety and that of their family members should they appear as witnesses against the defendant.”

The judge found that the risk of trial participants, such as jurors, fearing to participate is no longer hypothetical, and this “will undoubtedly interfere” with trial proceedings.

“That reality cannot be overstated,” he decided.

Normally, the speech of a defendant is highly protected, “especially when the accused is a public figure,” he added, but the “conventional ‘David vs. Goliath’ roles are no longer in play as demonstrated by the singular power Defendant’s words have on countless others.”

The prosecution had argued that President Trump’s conduct was “deliberate” and intended to intimidate the judge. The defense argued that President Trump’s political speech was necessary in this political environment and only highlighted reasons why the judge should recuse himself.

The judge found the prosecutors’ arguments “compelling” and persuasive, and the defense’s arguments “at best strained and at worst baseless misrepresentations” full of “accusations that are disingenuous and not rational.”

On Truth Social, President Trump criticized the judge again on April 2.

“I just was informed that another corrupt New York Judge, Juan Merchan, GAGGED me so that I can not talk about the corruption and conflicts taking place in his courtroom with respect to a case that everyone, including the D.A., felt should never have been brought,” he wrote. “They can talk about me, but I can’t talk about them??? That sounds fair, doesn’t it? This Judge should be recused, and the case should be thrown out. There has virtually never been a more conflicted judge than this one. ELECTION INTERFERENCE at its worst!”

Upcoming Trial

The trial has been set for April 15, and in less than two weeks the first-ever criminal trial of a former American president will take place in Manhattan.

President Trump has already attended the trials of two recent civil cases against him in New York recently, often met with packed courthouses of curious spectators, the press, and even tourists.

The trial had originally been scheduled for March 25, but a late discovery batch of over 100,000 pages given to the defense, right before the trial, resulted in a delay. On March 25, the judge held a hearing on these issues instead and admonished the defense for placing blame for the late delivery on prosecutors.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference after the hearing, President Trump said it was not right for the trial to take place at the height of the election season, and signaled an appeal.

“I don’t know that you’re going to have a trial, I think we’re going to get some court rulings,” he said.

Defense attorneys have filed several letters with the court as of late, but the judge recently criticized the defense for repeated attempts to delay the trial. A renewed push to have the judge recuse himself is one of the latest such attempts, but Justice Merchan has already declined to step down from the case once before.