From the Ballot Box to the Jury Box, South Florida Voters Ponder Trump

As a registered voter in Palm Beach County, Fla., Bette Anne Starkey knows there is a possibility she could be chosen to serve on a jury in the federal criminal case against former President Donald J. Trump. But even though she is a two-time Trump voter, she cannot really say how she would lean as a juror weighing the case.

Echoing Mr. Trump himself, Ms. Starkey, an 81-year-old bookkeeper, used the phrase “witch hunt” in an interview to describe the federal indictment against the former president, which accuses him of knowingly removing classified documents from the White House. But she also struggles to understand why Mr. Trump did not simply return the documents when asked for them, part of her simmering irritation with the 45th president.

“I’m sick of hearing about all of his shenanigans,” she said.

Her comments reflect the complicated feelings that Mr. Trump can elicit these days even among Republicans who voted for him. But Ms. Starkey is also a reflection of the equally complicated, volatile politics of South Florida, Mr. Trump’s home turf, and the jury pool it offers.

It is in diverse, densely populated South Florida that a jury of Mr. Trump’s peers will be called upon to judge his innocence or guilt if the case ever goes to trial, although the exact trial location and jury pool have not been determined.

The case was filed in the West Palm Beach court division of the Southern District of Florida, meaning the jury may be selected from registered voters in Palm Beach County, home to Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where he has lived since leaving the White House. Mr. Trump lost Palm Beach County to President Biden by nearly 13 percentage points in 2020.

But a jury pool made up of Miami-Dade County voters, to the south of Palm Beach, is also a possibility, particularly if it is determined that the federal courthouse in Miami, where Mr. Trump is expected to make an initial appearance on Tuesday, is best equipped to accommodate what will likely be one of the highest-profile criminal trials in American history.

Mr. Trump lost Miami-Dade by only about seven points in the last election, getting strong support from Hispanic voters in particular; more than two-thirds of the county’s residents identify as Hispanic, according to census data.

Both counties, however, have grown more Republican in recent years, and Republican candidates have had significant success in statewide races. Mr. Trump won Florida in both 2016 and 2020, and the state has twice elected Gov. Ron DeSantis, currently Mr. Trump’s main rival for the Republican presidential nomination.

All of this should offer some comfort to members of Mr. Trump’s defense team, who know it takes only one vote to result in a hung jury. And many South Floridians, like Americans elsewhere in the country, believe that Mr. Trump is a victim of unfair treatment by powerful forces on the political left.

George Cadman, 54, is a real estate agent and father of two who said he has not been following the news closely over the last few months. He said he had not heard about the federal charges against Mr. Trump — making him, in some sense, a good candidate for jury service.

But Mr. Cadman, who lives in southern Miami-Dade County, also said he supports Trump “100 percent” and that he believes previous investigations of Mr. Trump were politically motivated.

Adding that he believes Russia’s 2016 election interference and the scandal about Mr. Trump and Ukraine were hoaxes, he said, “I would be very leery on making a decision on what I think about it,” he said, referring to the new case against Mr. Trump.

(In a subsequent phone call, Mr. Cadman said that as much as he loved Mr. Trump, he planned to vote for President Biden in 2024, because rising property values had been good for his job as a real estate agent.)

Many of South Florida’s Cuban Americans learned the hard way, during and after the Cuban Revolution, about the impact of politics on even apolitical lives. And for some of the conservatives among them, like Modesto Estrada, a retired businessman who arrived in Miami 18 years ago, Mr. Trump is worth supporting as a powerful brake on Democrats and liberal policies that Mr. Estrada said were “ruining the country” by discouraging people from working.

Mr. Estrada, 71, noted that Mr. Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence had also been found to have sensitive government documents in their possession. Like many people interviewed, he said he would have a hard time being an impartial juror in the case.

“From my personal perspective, up till now, they don’t have anything on him,” he said of Mr. Trump. “And nothing’s going to happen to him. He’s not going to jail. The case is going to fall apart and that’s what I’m hoping.”

Just as Mr. Estrada said his experience with a left-wing dictatorship has colored his hope that Mr. Trump is found not guilty, Viviana Dominguez, 63, referred to her own experience in her native Argentina, which was ruled by a right-wing military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983, as she expressed her dislike of Mr. Trump.

Ms. Dominguez, an art conservator who has lived in Miami for 13 years, called Mr. Trump an “embarrassment,” adding, “I think he’s going to go to jail, but I don’t know if that’s wishful thinking.”

She described the documents case, and Mr. Trump’s still-considerable base of support, in terms of an unsettling loosening of civic standards. “We saw all that in my own country, when the lies kept getting bigger and bigger,” she said. “The margin of tolerance kept getting wider and wider, so that you never saw the limit. They would talk of morality and of the family, but they would be the most corrupt, the most obscene people anywhere. It’s like a state of madness.”

Roderick Clelland, a 78-year-old Vietnam veteran from West Palm Beach, the most populous city in Palm Beach County, said he was worried about the international implications of what he saw as Mr. Trump’s lax attitude toward sensitive national secrets.

“The whole world is watching us.” Mr. Clelland said. “And some of those documents about other countries — are they going to trust us? People have been locked up for less than that. So you can’t just violate the law and get away with it. So I hope there is a penalty.”

Mr. Clelland was careful to note that he did not hate Mr. Trump. “But I don’t like his behavior and his attitude,” he said.

Despite voting for Mr. Trump twice, Ms. Starkey, the bookkeeper, said she has never been a big fan. But in both 2016 and 2020, she could not bring herself to support the more liberal candidate. These days, she is thinking about voting for Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and Republican governor of South Carolina.

Still, Ms. Starkey said the indictment of Mr. Trump seemed like a partisan move at a time when American politics is lacking much of the comity between the two parties that she remembers fondly from the past. It was one reason, she said, that she would have a hard time if she were picked for an eventual jury in the case: “Do you trust that you’re getting all the facts for and against?” she wondered.

She said she was exasperated with the drama surrounding the indictment — and knew there were many others like her.

“I just want it to go away,” she said.

@Verónica Soledad Zaragovia contributed reporting from Palm Beach County, Fla.

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