UPDATE, 12:55PM PT, BREAKING — The closed-court hearing in Harvey Weinstein’s rape case is over, but the legal matter is far from finished for the former mogul.
After a lengthy pre-trial session Friday between Manhattan prosecutors and the Oscar-winning producer’s latest defense team, the trial for the case that could see Weinstein jailed for life has been pushed back. It will now start September 9.
The trial was previously scheduled to start June 3.
In today’s closed-door proceeding, the Manhattan D.A.’s team told New York Supreme Court Justice James Burke that their part of the trial would take approximately three weeks. The defense informed the court that their portion would take about two weeks. Both sides’ estimations are partially based on witness availability, we hear.
As Deadline reported earlier today, Burke said the jury selection process “is likely to be lengthy” given the likely lack of candidates who would not have formed opinions about Weinstein based on what they have heard in recent months.
PREVIOUSLY, 8AM PT: The Harvey Weinstein trial in New York has entered a secretive new phase after the judge endorsed a motion from both the defense and the D.A.’s office to close the courtroom and seal documents related to a key portion.
The start of the trial is weeks away, but New York Supreme Court saw a significant turn in the case Friday morning as a decisive decision by Supreme Court Justice James Burke means some preliminary evaluation of witness statements and evidence will happen in secret. There will be no public access to what’s known in New York as a “Molineax hearing,” during which the admissibility of evidence is considered before trial.
Allowing the Molineux hearing to be open to press, with unsealed records circulating, “would, perversely, have the effect of broadcasting to the jury pool allegations that may never be admissible at trial,” Burke said. “No reasonable alternative” to closing the courtroom exists that would ensure a fair trial for Weinstein, he added.
“This court has considered the celebrity status of the defendant, which has generated considerable publicity for this case around the world,” Burke said.
The judge then ordered the courtroom cleared and bailiffs ushered several dozen spectators into the hallway. A D.A. spokesman told Deadline outside the courtroom that Burke would likely reopen the courtroom for a portion of the pre-trial hearing later on Friday.
Robert Balin, an attorney for more than a dozen media organizations, including The New York Times, NBC, Fox News and Reuters, said he would immediately appeal Burke’s decision.
During a 45-minute courtroom proceeding during which both sides were argued and Burke issued his ruling, Balin argued that “public observation of criminal proceedings is part of the very fabric of our democracy.” Burke interjected during his remarks, urging him to “please be brief” and holding up the inch-thick printed brief Balin had submitted. When he then made a throat-slashing gesture as emphasis, it suggested where Burke was likely to come out on the matter.
In her brief remarks to the bench, defense attorney Marianne Bertuna said, “We all agree how important the media is.” However, she added, “this is not a typical courtroom on a typical day. … Let’s limit the damage that’s been done by an insatiable media and ensure Mr. Weinstein’s right to a fair trial.”
Weinstein has been indicted on two counts of predatory sexual assault, one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree and one count each of first-degree rape and third-degree rape. The felony charges from Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr’s office carry a potential sentence of life imprisonment under state sex crimes laws.
Elements of the original case have been peeled off since the indictments were first pronounced, with the travel-restricted Weinstein out on a bail of $1 million and having entered a plea of not guilty on July 9 last year.
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