Has U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan left a tripwire for Donald Trump? The Manhattan judge issued a curious ruling last week in the case of writer E. Jean Carroll, who is suing Trump for defamation over an alleged rape in the mid-1990s. Kaplan has decreed that the jury must be kept anonymous. It’s a seemingly minor ruling that could have major consequences when the case goes to trial on April 25.
Interestingly, neither Trump nor Carroll’s lawyers objected when Kaplan first notified them, a couple weeks ago, that he was considering an anonymous jury. The Daily News and Associated Press argued against it, of course, but on Thursday Kaplan issued his opinion (read here) that highlighted his fear that Carroll jurors could be harassed, or worse. “This is a unique case,” he wrote, enumerating various instances of Trump’s public misbehavior, like inciting his supporters during the Jan. 6 riot and, last week, when he claimed he was about to be arrested in the Stormy Daniels case. Kaplan added: “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’s note about the potential timing and proximity of the Daniels case previews a whole host of issues that could crop up if Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg does, in fact, indict Trump. If that criminal action commences, will the Carroll civil trial still move forward? That’s unclear. Trump could make an emergency motion arguing that a sexual assault trial, with the potential for interrogation on the witness stand, would prejudice him, potentially forcing Kaplan, 78, to postpone. Kaplan, for his part, has been pretty careful these past couple of months to keep this trial on schedule. Maybe this signals he’d charge forward regardless of what Bragg does.