Jurors began their second day of deliberations in Paul Manafort’s trial Friday morning as the presiding federal judge outlined his ground rules for how the media should cover the verdict without disrupting the courtroom.
The six-man, six-woman jury spent less than five minutes in open court with U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III Friday morning before resuming their examination of the reams of evidence and testimony in the bank- and tax-fraud trial.
“You may deliberate as long or as little as you wish,” Ellis told the jurors, who spent more than seven hours on Thursday considering Manafort’s fate in special counsel Robert Mueller’s first trial.
After the jurors exited for a nearby conference room, Ellis acknowledged the trial “might end soon” and turned to several media-related matters, including the decorum for reporters who plan to be in the Alexandria, Virginia, courthouse when the verdict gets read.
Ellis requested that media members who plan to race out of the building mid-verdict to deliver the news — no cameras, cell phones or laptops are allowed for instantaneous reporting — work from a sixth floor overflow room where the trial is being simulcast on televisions.
“Here, I’d prefer we maintain some decorum as we go through the entire rather lengthy jury form,” Ellis said, signaling he’d keep the doors closed in the ninth-floor courtroom where the verdict will be read aloud.
Reporters’ abrupt comings and goings from the packed courtroom during major moments of the trial — namely during the testimony of longtime Manafort deputy Rick Gates — caused enough commotion to draw Ellis’ ire.
Ellis also scheduled a hearing around 2 p.m. Friday to hear arguments from seven news organizations, including POLITICO, that are seeking access to several sealed transcripts from bench conferences during the trial, as well as other documents filed in the case that aren’t public.
During three trial days — last Friday as well as Monday and Tuesday of this week — the court held extended closed-door sessions or sidebar conferences that were blocked out to the public using a white-noise machine.
At least some of those proceedings related to a defense motion that is under seal. There were also indications that some of the discussions pertained to a jury issue.
The judge was vague about the need for secrecy, but he said the bulk of the currently-sealed information would be released “at the end of the case.”
“I think it would be disruptive for it to be discussed in the course of the trial,” Ellis said.
However, the judge gave his first hint at some of the sealed matters Friday, saying some medical information is being kept under wraps.
“Maybe some names won’t be revealed. Maybe some medical things won’t be revealed,” Ellis said.
Ellis, a 78-year old Ronald Reagan appointee, has frequently clashed with Mueller’s prosecutors in a bid to keep the trial moving at a rapid clip. During his remarks Friday, he acknowledged his behavior has generated media scrutiny.
“I’m no stranger to criticism. This case has brought it to a new level,” Ellis said.
Earlier in the case, the judge maintained that he wasn’t tracking press coverage of the trial. But in recent days, Ellis has made clear he’s aware of reports that he gave a lot of grief to prosecutors during the trial.
“A thirsty press is essential to a free country,” he said.