Pace of Trump trial jury selection accelerates on day two as half of the panel is chosen

Credit: AP

Words by Court Reporter Phil Hirschkorn

The first seven of 12 jury seats have been filled for the first criminal trial of former US President Donald Trump, and those jurors have been sworn in for duty.

Judge Juan Merchan told them to return to New York Supreme Court next Monday, April 22, potentially for opening statements, though the schedule is subject to change.

After a day-and-a-half of preliminaries on Tuesday afternoon, prosecutors and defense attorneys began individual challenges of potential jurors who had already answered 42 questions on a common questionnaire and specifically tailored follow-ups.

The Trump defense team challenged four of the first six jurors over their social media posts, claiming they show bias against the former president.

Judge Merchan granted only two of those challenges.

One excused man had last year posted a story on Facebook about the Trump indictment in the Florida classified documents case, under which he wrote: “No one is above the law.”

Another excused man had posted on Facebook in 2017 - when Trump was president - celebrating a legal setback for him: “Good news!! Trump lost his court battle over his unlawful travel ban!!! Get him out and lock him up.”

Former US President Donald Trump has been charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records. Credit: Christine Cornell/AP

Meanwhile, the judge rejected challenges over two women for their social media posts, in one instance, by the potential juror's husband attempting to share humor.

Besides the man not even being the potential juror, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass argued political humor is “not a window into their soul” and “current views or ability to be fair,” adding that social media should not be a litmus test.

After Merchan declined to dismiss the first woman juror challenged, the judge admonished Trump for muttering when she had been standing less than 12 feet from him at the podium answering questions.

“He was audible," the judge said. "He was gesturing." Then, raising his voice, Merchan added: “I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom.

”He asked the defense attorneys to "speak to your client," and they did.

Later, Trump's defense lawyers exercised two peremptory (no reason needed) challenges to excuse those women with the social media posts.

On Tuesday, Trump and the prosecution both used 6 of his 10 available peremptory challenges.

Most of the first 96 jury pool members summoned to court have been sent home - the majority after disqualifying themselves as either unwilling or unable to commit the next two months to the trial or unable, in their minds, to be impartial, or other hardship causes they were not forced to disclose.

Kara McGee, 29, who works in cybersecurity, and lives in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, was excused Tuesday due to a scheduling conflict, but she said outside of the courthouse she had wanted to serve on the jury - a first for her.

“Everybody comes in with their own prior opinion, but you try your hardest to put it out of your mind and uphold democracy, because regardless of how you feel about Donald Trump, the right to a fair trial is really important,” McGee told me.

“I said that I could be impartial, because I think that no matter who someone is in this country, the right to a fair trial is more important than my own particular feelings about the person."

Why were some other jurors being excused? Most likely due to their careers: Of the final six jurors questioned Tuesday afternoon, three were sent home before they began or finished answering the questionnaire.

One woman, a full-time doctor, said she worried about caring for patients. She was excused right away.

Same goes for the man who told the court: “I cannot give up my job for six plus weeks.”

Another common reason - admitted bias.

A female high school history teacher at a Manhattan private school answered “no” question #34 -- Do you have any strong opinions or firmly held beliefs about former President Donald Trump?

She said: “As I’m sitting here reflecting deeply, I do have concerns, yes, your honor.”

The judge excused her from service. At the end of the day, three men were the final potential jurors questioned.

One middle aged man, like Trump, works in real estate development, but had no business with him.

“People I know know the president,” he said, but was sure to add that would not affect my thinking.

When pressed for his opinion of Trump, favorable or unfavorable, he said he was an “admirer from afar of the work” and found Trump’s seminal memoir, The Art of The Deal, “entertaining.” Prosecutors used a peremptory challenge to remove him.

Same fate for a rare retiree, a Black former corrections officer who was asked by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger how he might judge the testimony of ex-Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen turned government witness.

"What I can say is that if you plea bargained or plea-dealed, or you’re looking out for yourself or you’re telling the truth," the man said, adding he could keep an open mind. The prosecution had him excused with a peremptory challenge.

The court will begin the process of questioning the next batch of 96 potential jurors on Thursday morning.

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