Manafort judge weighed declaring mistrial over jury issues, court transcripts show

A juror's comment about Paul Manafort's lack of a defense led to four days of secretive discussions in the m...

Posted: Aug 23, 2018 11:15 AM
Updated: Aug 23, 2018 11:15 AM

A juror's comment about Paul Manafort's lack of a defense led to four days of secretive discussions in the middle of the trial and the judge weighing whether he should call a mistrial, according to newly unsealed court transcripts.

The discussions began on August 10 when the trial was delayed for five hours, and unfurled over the following three days in court.

Continents and regions

Court trials

Crime, law enforcement and corrections

Criminal law

Decisions and rulings

Eastern Europe

Europe

Government and public administration

Investigations

Law and legal system

Misc people

Mistrial

Paul Manafort

Political Figures - US

Politics

Russia

Russia meddling investigation

T S Ellis

Trial and procedure

According to the transcripts released Wednesday, the heavy media presence weighed on Judge T.S. Ellis and the lawyers. Ellis even considered how not to create "more grist for the wild media mill," as the judge re-interviewed every juror about their impartiality and heard arguments from the lawyers in a closed courtroom.

The delay of the prosecution's case as the judge dealt with the jury accusation led to much speculation among the public as to what the private discussions encompassed.

The transcripts, sealed until after a verdict, were released by the court on Wednesday. Manafort was convicted on eight charges of financial crimes Tuesday.

When Ellis started inquiring with jurors about what was happening on August 10, one juror told him the other members of the jury had been making remarks about politics and the case, and how one juror commented that "the defense was weak."

Jurors are not allowed to discuss the case among themselves until after both prosecutors and defense close their presentations and deliberations officially begin.

READ: Jury notes from the Manafort trial

Ultimately, the situation didn't result in the dismissal of any jurors, and Ellis declined to declare a mistrial. But it did create quite the hitch in the proceedings.

Juror spoke about Manafort's defense strategy

Here's what happened, as described in the newly unsealed court transcripts:

One juror, within earshot of another juror, commented that Manafort "has not presented any evidence of his innocence," Ellis first told the attorneys involved. The second juror reported the incident to the court, saying the juror who made the comments was "unimpressed" with Manafort's case.

That second juror then asked if the judge could tell the jurors they shouldn't make comments about the case before deliberations. (Ellis reminded the jurors of this during time at the beginning and end of every day of trial.)

Manafort's defense team grasped onto the hubbub almost immediately, asking Ellis to declare a mistrial and to toss a juror for being untruthful. If the latter had happened, the juror may have been replaced with an alternate.

Ultimately, Ellis heard arguments from the lawyers over four days, from August 10 until August 15, when both sides delivered their closing arguments. The jury began deliberations on August 16 and reached a verdict Tuesday.

"This clearly is crossing the line if it, in fact, happened," Manafort's defense attorney Richard Westling told the judge the first time the lawyers discussed the juror issue. "It suggests someone who has left beside -- behind the presumption of innocence the defendant is entitled to until the evidence is all in."

During the first few hours of sealed conversation in the packed courtroom, Ellis, the lawyers and the courtroom staff spent several minutes discussing how best not to create "pandemonium" among the watching spectators. By that time, something clearly was up in courtroom, because of the unexpected delay and the long, hushed conversations the lawyers were having.

For his first round of juror interviews to investigate the problem, Ellis and a law clerk ended up exiting through the door on the opposite side of the courtroom from the judge's chambers -- leading some in the watching crowd to suspect he would speak with jurors, who waited near that door.

The second juror, a woman who had overhead the comments, told the judge at this interview that she feared the other juror "had essentially made up her mind regarding the case based on the information presented to her thus far," according to the transcript. "And I reminded her that we have not heard from everyone in this case. That we need, of course, [to] keep an open mind. It is our responsibility as a jury to hear everything and then reach our own conclusion."

The juror also told the judge she thought other jurors were talking too much about the case.

When Ellis confronted the juror who made the comment about the defense that may have crossed the line, she replied: "What I meant was that it would be really hard to have to defend against that." By this point in the trial, the prosecutors had called 23 witnesses to testify and used thousands of pages of documents as evidence.

The jurors and trial attorneys moved through back halls to meet Ellis in his conference room. He interviewed the jurors one by one the following week in the courtroom. Each assured the judge they remained unbiased and could deliberate the case with an open mind.

That round of interviews came hours before Manafort's team rested his case without presenting any witnesses.

After the trial, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing said Ellis held a "fair trial."

"Mr. Manafort is disappointed of not getting acquittals all the way through or a complete hung jury on all counts," Downing told reporters. "However, he would like to thank Judge Ellis for granting him a fair trial, thank the jury for their very long and hard-fought deliberations."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 52037

Reported Deaths: 2762
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion12111693
Lake5677249
Elkhart366260
Allen2971134
St. Joseph221169
Hamilton1735101
Cass16489
Hendricks1470100
Johnson1351118
Porter84938
Vanderburgh8016
Tippecanoe7859
Clark71944
Madison68164
LaPorte62928
Howard61058
Bartholomew60545
Kosciusko5844
Marshall57011
Noble52428
Boone49244
LaGrange48710
Delaware48152
Jackson4793
Hancock47436
Shelby46025
Floyd41844
Monroe36128
Morgan34431
Grant32226
Dubois3196
Henry30318
Montgomery29720
Clinton2903
White27810
Dearborn27123
Warrick26829
Vigo2618
Decatur25732
Lawrence25325
Harrison21822
Greene19932
Miami1942
Jennings17912
Putnam1748
DeKalb1694
Scott1659
Wayne1596
Daviess15117
Perry15110
Steuben1402
Orange13823
Jasper1362
Ripley1357
Franklin1288
Gibson1282
Wabash1193
Carroll1142
Starke1093
Fayette1087
Whitley1086
Newton10110
Huntington942
Jefferson872
Wells831
Randolph804
Fulton761
Jay720
Knox710
Washington681
Pulaski661
Clay645
Posey640
Rush623
Spencer591
Owen531
Benton510
Sullivan511
Adams491
Brown441
Blackford402
Fountain362
Crawford330
Tipton331
Switzerland320
Parke280
Martin260
Ohio230
Vermillion200
Warren151
Union140
Pike120
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 66853

Reported Deaths: 3064
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin12301449
Cuyahoga9359399
Hamilton7046208
Lucas3079306
Marion275539
Montgomery257936
Summit2382209
Pickaway222942
Mahoning1971239
Butler189747
Columbiana139560
Stark1244116
Lorain118970
Trumbull106678
Warren101826
Clark82010
Delaware76315
Fairfield71917
Lake62723
Tuscarawas62110
Licking60012
Medina59932
Belmont57324
Clermont5157
Miami51431
Wood51051
Portage50960
Ashtabula45244
Geauga43143
Richland3906
Allen38541
Wayne37655
Greene3659
Mercer30410
Erie30122
Holmes2625
Darke26126
Huron2602
Madison2259
Ottawa21724
Athens1921
Sandusky17615
Ross1503
Washington14720
Putnam14515
Coshocton1434
Crawford1405
Jefferson1272
Morrow1271
Hardin12512
Union1151
Auglaize1124
Muskingum1061
Preble961
Lawrence920
Clinton912
Monroe8917
Hancock871
Hocking839
Guernsey824
Scioto770
Shelby774
Williams772
Carroll713
Logan711
Ashland692
Fulton680
Wyandot665
Brown621
Fayette580
Highland581
Champaign571
Knox571
Defiance553
Van Wert491
Perry481
Seneca442
Henry370
Paulding340
Jackson310
Pike290
Adams282
Vinton232
Gallia211
Noble140
Harrison131
Meigs130
Morgan120
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Few Clouds
68° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 68°
Angola
Few Clouds
63° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 63°
Huntington
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 64°
Decatur
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 64°
Van Wert
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 64°
Storms Late Wednesday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events