Dismissed Trump Jurors Describe Intense Days in a Glaring Spotlight



The two Manhattan residents were led into the courtroom to fulfill a foundational civic duty: to be interviewed as prospective jurors.

But in the room when they arrived was a defendant, Donald J. Trump, unlike any in American history.

Both would-be jurors, a man and a woman, were eventually excused. But the experience thrust them into the spotlight in a way they never had imagined.

One was challenged by Mr. Trump’s lawyers over his past social media posts relating to the former president. The other, the woman, has a medical practice that she could not shut for six weeks while serving on the trial.

While they were not chosen to sit on the jury, their experiences illustrate the intensity of the attention focused on Mr. Trump’s trial — and on the first jury to ever weigh the fate of a former United States president in a criminal proceeding.

Both contacted The New York Times only after they were excused from serving. Though the court’s rules protecting prospective jurors’ identities end when they are dismissed from serving, The Times is withholding their names and most identifying characteristics about them.

Like the other prospective jurors who were considered, both included detailed personal information on the juror questionnaires they filled out, including where they work.

They were made to answer those questions by speaking into a microphone in open court; soon, both were blindsided as details of their lives ricocheted around the internet. They said they were frustrated that so much attention was devoted to prospective jurors and ascertaining information about them.

While they later learned that the judge in the case, Justice Juan M. Merchan, had ordered some of the information jurors were ordered to reveal publicly to be redacted, it felt to them like closing the barn door after the horse had left. As with many things connected to the trial, the rhythms and even some of the parameters are being written in real time.

Their experiences mirrored some that other prospective jurors who were dismissed have described. One, a man who gave his name as Mark to NBC News, said he had “satirized Mr. Trump often in my artwork,” and because of that, he had expected not to be chosen.

A woman who gave her name as Kara, who said the nature of her job made serving extremely difficult, told NBC News that she realized the gravity of serving on any criminal jury, but particularly this one.

Seeing Mr. Trump in person, she said, was “very jarring.” He was, she realized, just “another guy.”

One of the jurors who spoke with The Times, the man, did not immediately realize what case he was involved in when he was led into the courtroom on the 15th floor of the Manhattan criminal courthouse. The woman had a sense a week earlier, having read a news story about the trial beginning the week she was supposed to respond to a juror summons.

The man, sitting a few rows behind the prosecutors’ table when the two were part of the first panel of 96 prospective jurors brought into the courtroom Monday afternoon, felt a sense of calm about five minutes into being there. Trump was simply a defendant, he thought. It was a business-records trial. Prosecutors were on one side, the defense lawyers on the other.

The woman was struck by the fact that Mr. Trump stood and waved to jurors, she said, as he and his lawyers were introduced to the group. It felt more to her like the behavior of a campaigning candidate than of a criminal defendant. (Mr. Trump, of course, is both.)

Both were put off by efforts by Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, to assess prospective jurors’ views of Mr. Trump. The man said Mr. Blanche seemed “folksy” in a way he found disingenuous, while the woman was sharper, describing a “witch hunt” to root out people sympathetic to Democrats on the panel — a phrase Mr. Trump uses often to criticize the various prosecutors investigating his conduct.

The man in particular was frustrated that he was asked about past social media posts in which he had been critical of Mr. Trump, which Mr. Blanche’s team raised and which Justice Merchan ultimately agreed meant the man should be excused.

The man believed he could have been fair and resented the implication that he could not have been. Both he and the woman, who said they believe in the system of jury service, noted that they had begun the day taking sworn oaths vowing to render a fair and impartial judgment on the evidence. The man believed his own views — especially views from years ago — had no bearing on his ability to judge the evidence. If anything, he said, he would have been hyper-conscious in doing so.

Both had realized the magnitude of what serving on that jury would mean.

But they were also conscious of the threats and blowback that could come with weighing evidence against Mr. Trump — particularly with their personal details traceable in public. And both had concerns about being chosen because of that; the man in particular said his spouse had been worried.

Both would have valued being part of the historic trial. But both also had a sense of relief that they were not picked.

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