By Dara Kam ©2023 The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Turmoil continued Wednesday in the public corruption trial of former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum amid revelations that a juror posted information about the case on social media after deliberations began.
Information about the social-media posts surfaced a day after jurors told U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor that they appeared to be deadlocked on at least one charge against Gillum and his political mentor, Sharon Lettman-Hicks.
The social-media posts on LinkedIn also led to a split between the two defendants, who are accused of conspiring to bilk political contributors out of money and steering it to Gillum for his personal use.
Alex Morris, who represents Lettman-Hicks, told Winsor that “Juror No. 12” had posted selfies outside the federal courthouse on LinkedIn and made comments after jury deliberations began. “I pray we arrive at a verdict today,” one of the juror’s posts said, according to Morris.
The juror also replied to at least one of the 170 comments responding to her post, David Markus, an attorney who represents Gillum, added.
Both defense lawyers initially suggested that she be dismissed and replaced with one of two alternate jurors. Deliberations started Friday after jurors heard two weeks of arguments and testimony.
But Winsor said that, as allowed under federal court rules and previous case law, deliberations would continue with just 11 jurors if the woman who posted on social media was dismissed. That possibility divided the defense attorneys,
The jury was “many days into deliberations … in a complex trial,” Winsor said.
Removing a juror would require the jury to “start from scratch” and result in “losing whatever progress there is by going back to square one,” the judge said after reviewing Juror No. 12’s posts and the responses to them.
Markus said the juror should remain in place. Gary Milligan, an assistant U.S. attorney, also said she should not be dismissed. Morris, however, asked that she be excused.
Morris argued that the juror’s posts were among a series of “anomalies” since the deliberations started. For example, Morris said, the jury appeared to lack a foreperson because numerous messages sent to Winsor were written by different people.
In addition, jurors, who had remained in the courthouse until at least 5 p.m. on Friday and Monday, went home before 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Winsor acknowledged that the juror’s posts “shouldn’t happen” but said her behavior doesn’t warrant removal, “considering all the circumstances” in the case.
“She’s not going to be excused at this point,” he said.
Markus earlier also expressed concern that revelations about the social media posts could spark media reports and elevate the risk that jurors would hear about the trial outside of the courthouse. He asked Winsor to declare a mistrial, pointing in part to the duration of the jury’s deliberations.
“I’m just nervous this whole thing is going to blow up at this point,” Markus said.
Markus also asked Winsor to bring the jurors into the courtroom and remind them that they had been told not to post anything about the trial on social media.
Addressing the jurors about 5 p.m. Wednesday, Winsor admonished them to remember his instructions about getting or receiving information about the case outside of the courthouse.
“I told you many times … how important it is not to talk about the case,” the judge said. “I cannot say emphatically enough that you are not to receive any outside information about the case.”
Winsor did not prohibit the jurors from using social media but advised, “If you see a post about the case, just exit the browser right away.”
The uproar about the social media posts came after jurors earlier in the day asked Winsor for a printout of exhibits from the trial, as well as colored markers and paper clips.
The jury told Winsor on Tuesday they had reached an agreement on one charge against Gillum, who also served as Tallahassee mayor, but were convinced they could not unanimously decide on at least one other charge.
Gillum is charged with making false statements to federal investigators, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and committing wire fraud. The charges are related to activities between 2016 and 2019, as Gillum rose to national political stardom.
The charges against Gillum came after a lengthy FBI probe also snared Scott Maddox, a former Tallahassee city commissioner and former Florida Democratic Party chairman. Maddox pleaded guilty in 2019 and is serving time in federal prison.
Deliberations are scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Thursday.