Writer E. Jean Carroll arrives as jury selection is set to begin in the defamation case against former US President Donald Trump brought by Carroll, who accused him of raping her in the 1990s, at the Manhattan Federal Court, New York, April 25, 2023.
Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images
The federal trial began Tuesday for a civil lawsuit by a New York writer E. Jean Carroll, who accuses former President Donald Trump of raping her in the dressing room of a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s.
Six men and three women were chosen for the jury during a selection process earlier in the day in Manhattan federal court.
“He sexually assaulted her,” Carroll’s lawyer Shawn Crowley told jurors in an opening statement. “Donald Trump assaulted her in 1996 and defamed her when he said she made it up.”
“We should hold him accountable for what he did in the dressing room and for attacking her credibility,” Crowley said.
“Donald Trump assaulted Carroll but you will also hear that she is not the only one he has assaulted,” the attorney said, referring to other women who have claimed Trump groped them against their will.
Trump’s lawyer Joseph Tacopina, in his own statement, urged jurors to put aside any negative feelings they might have about the former president and focus on the evidence, which he said would exonerate Trump.
“People have strong feelings about Donald Trump and it’s OK to feel that way, Tacopina said. “It’s OK to hate Donald Trump and there is a time and a place to express that. In an election, not in a court of law.”
“The evidence will show you that what [Carroll] is doing is an affront to justice,” Tacopina said. “She is doing this for money, political reasons and status and in doing so she is minimizing true rape victims and destroying their pain and capitalizing on them.”
Earlier, during the jury selection process, one female potential juror who said that Trump had been treated unfairly by the press, that she watches Fox News and is married to a minister, was not chosen.
Ten potential jurors out of the initial pool of 48 prospective panel members were immediately dismissed after they stood in agreement with a question posed by Judge Lewis Kaplan: “Is there anything about the nature of this case or the parties that would make it difficult for you to give a just and impartial verdict?”
None of the would-be jurors said the fact that Carroll went public with her allegation more than 20 years after it allegedly happened makes her less credible.
Carroll was in the courtroom when jury selection kicked off, and plans to be there every day during the trial, her lawyers have told Kaplan.
Trump, who is seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, was not in court, and it is not clear that he ever will be during the case. His lawyer Tacopina has told the judge the decision on whether Trump will appear at the trial will be made on a day-by-day basis.
The trial is starting three weeks after Trump was arraigned in Manhattan state court on a 34-count criminal indictment accusing him of falsifying business records in connection with a 2016 hush money payment to a porn star by his then-lawyer shortly before the presidential election that year.
Trump, who has pleaded not guilty in that case, is the first former president to face criminal prosecution.
He is under criminal investigation by federal authorities in connection with his efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss, and his retention of government records after leaving the White House in early 2021. A state prosecutor in Georgia is considering whether to criminally charge him and his allies in their attempt to undo his 2020 election loss in that state.
Trump has denied Carroll’s claim that he raped her after a chance encounter at the Bergdorf Goodman department store, which is just up the street from his residence and business headquarters at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
She is suing him for the alleged rape under a new New York law that for one year allowed complainants in sexual misconduct cases to bring civil claims that normally would be time-barred by the statute of limitations.
Carroll also is suing Trump for allegedly defaming her last October by saying her story was a hoax, and that she had changed her account of the incident while detailing it in a CNN interview.
The trial is dealing with only one of the two defamation lawsuits Carroll has pending against Trump. The other one, which was filed in 2019, relates to allegedly defamatory statements Trump made as president about her claim of being raped when she wrote about it in a New York Magazine article.
That other case was delayed over legal arguments about whether Trump could be sued for making such statements while serving in the White House.
Kaplan has said the current trial will take five to 10 days, and that the jury will remain anonymous.
Jurors will be picked up by court marshals at an assembly point and driven to court every day and taken back to that point at the end of the day.
“There has been a fair amount of media attention and we want to protect you from unintended attention and harassment,” Kaplan told prospective jurors.
The judge told the jurors not to use real names when they are with each other. “If you a Bill, you can be John for a few days,” said Kaplan.
Prospective jurors were asked during the selection process if they knew Trump, Carroll, their attorneys or potential witnesses. None of the jurors indicated they knew any of the parties.
Every prospective juror was registered to vote, but several did not vote in 2016 and 2020, when Trump was the Republican presidential nominee.
One prospective juror indicated he had voted in both of those elections, and that he had contributed to a political action committee that supports Trump. But he said he would be impartial if seated for the trial.
Eight would-be jurors said they had read, seen or heard about the case. One of them was excused from consideration.
When asked if anyone thought the 2020 election was stolen — as Trump has said since he lost to President Joe Biden that year — no one raised their hand.
Likely, no one claimed to follow the conspiracy theory QAnon, whose supporters tend to back Trump, or the Oath Keepers or Antifa.
One woman was excused from service when she said she believed in the #MeToo movement, which in recent years has contributed to scores of high-profile men losing their jobs after being accused of sexual misconduct.
Twelve of the prospective jurors said they watch Trump’s former reality business show, “The Apprentice.”
They all agreed the victim of sexual assault does not bear responsibility or have to prove with evidence what happened. When asked if anyone had special education on harassment or sexual assault, one man stood up and said he worked in a human resources department at a company, but that he could remain impartial.