The end of the first official week of Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial began Friday with a new legal grenade being tossed into the proceedings.
“Most people don’t speak in front of the international media,” the disgraced producer’s co-counsel Arthur Aidala told Judge James Burke in the New York City courtroom this morning as he submitted an almost unprecedented motion for individual jury sequestration. “Our only motivation is to make sure we get a fair and impartial jury,” the lawyer added when questioned by the Empire State Supreme Court Justice as to why the defense is bringing this matter to court nearly halfway through the process of sitting a jury in the much-covered trial.
The wide reaching motion alleges that the jury questioning has allowed the defense to uncover that (1) some jurors have not been candid in their responses; (2) at least one juror has expressed an ulterior financial motive for serving on Mr. Weinstein’s trial and that he would find him guilty; (3) a number of jurors have been victims of or had exposure to sexual assault or domestic violence; and (4) nearly all jurors have heard about this case.” (read it here).
Essentially aiming to cripple or cloak the proceedings and force the media out the door, the defense almost halfheartedly claimed the true intent of their motion was to allow prospective jurors to discuss sensitive matters like sexual assault or other concerns without inhibiting themselves because of the press or others in the courtroom.
In a week that has been filled with such attempted explosive moves by the defense, Burke wasn’t buying it today.
“If this is inconsistent with having a transparent jury selection, it will be denied,” Burke sharply told Aidala as Weinstein, the rest of his defense team, Manhattan Deputy District Attorneys Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and Meghan Hast, and a scattering of at least national media looked on. “I see this is an end run around my ruling about your desire for time limits,” Burke also said to Aidala, in what you wouldn’t call the most indulgent of tones. Calling the blanket notion “against the law,” Burke still promised he would look over the eight-page motion later today or during the weekend – but it looked fairy DOA.
“They want each person to be questioned in private, for which I don’t think there is any precedent except in the most extreme examples,” Illuzzi-Orbon said in urging the judge to reject the defense’s latest motion. While Burke made it pretty clear that’s where he was leaning, the judge did say he saw wiggle room for privacy in delicate matters being brought up in jury selection. Burke also noted that is fairly standard in such cases as this anyway and doesn’t require a formal ruling.
About 118 potential jurors will go through the pre-screening process today, with court expect to run until 1 PM ET. More than 2,000 jury summonses were sent out for this case and his week has seen hundreds go through Burke’s courtroom in batches. Of those already appearing in the pre-screening process, dozens have been released from consideration because they are college students returning to school in the next week or so. Additionally, over 90 people have stated they can’t be impartial because of what they know about the case, the defendant, or due to connections they have to the matter or others involved with it.
The possible jurors were led down the hall and into the courtroom at about 10:04 AM ET today.
After days of drama since the proceedings kicked off January 6 with a media frenzy, soon followed by new charges against Weinstein out of Los Angeles, threats of imprisonment based on texting in court by the hobbled producer, and calls for adjournment and the judge to walk away from the case, today was relatively low key in its early hours.
Set to run for eight weeks once the long endeavor of finding an impartial jury concludes over the next several days, the high-profile trial could see the much-accused Weinstein restricted to a state prison cell for the rest of his life if found guilty on the five sex crime felony charges he is fighting. Of course, as has been evident this week and in recent months leading up to the trial with it stream of motions and challenges, Weinstein’s latest defense crew are laying the foundation for an appeal, if necessary.
As things stand right now, Judge Burke is pencilling in January 22 as the start of opening arguments.
Having seen Thursday’s jury selection process cut short by an eye aliment, Deputy D.A. Illuzzi-Orbon walked into less than half-full court at 9 AM ET on the dot with her colleague and Hast. “Yes, much better,” replied the prosecutor when asked by court officers how she was doing after an afternoon visit to the doctor Thursday.
Weinstein co-counsel Aidala was the first member of the defense team to arrive at 9:15 AM ET. The lawyer almost immediately went over to speak to a seated Illuzzi-Orbon in what seemed to be a personal discussion about her health issue of yesterday. Followed by lead defense lawyer Donna Rotunno, her colleague Damon Cheronis and other representatives, a dark-suited Weinstein pushed his walker into the 15th floor courtroom at the Criminal Courts building at 9:17 AM ET. As he has on past days, the defendant went to sit in the front row behind the defense table and conferred with his spokesman. At the same time, Rotunno and Illuzzi-Orbon had a quick chat at the prosecution table on what seemed to be very amicable terms.
Burke entered the court at 9:25 AM ET, as has been his tendency most days this week. Weinstein moved up to the defense table to sit with his team. “Much, much better,” Illuzzi-Orbon told Burke when the judge inquired about how she was doing.
Very quickly afterwards, things moved into more official gear as the prosecution submitted some plans for the coming weeks. All parties were soon up at the bench for a hushed scheduling sidebar. The more contentious matter of the motion for individual jury sequestration was next on the docket.
First arrested in late May 2018, Weinstein is facing multiple 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. Subject to travel restrictions reinforced last August 7, the 67-year-old producer is now out on a $5 million bail after first entering a not guilty plea on July 9 last year. Weinstein entered a plea of not guilty again on August 26 last year when a new indictment was added.
Accused by Ashley Judd in a now temporarily halted case, failing to get a sex-trafficking class action tossed out, and a more recent lawsuit from a woman who says he abused her when she was 16 in 2002, Weinstein is also facing allegations from close to 100 other women that he sexually assaulted or sexually harassed them. At present, several of the women are still reluctantly participating in the potential $25 million settlement that is part of an overall $45 million deal on the table.
In addition to the multiple sexual assault charges announced this week in Los Angeles and the NYC rape trial itself, Weinstein is also currently under investigation by federal prosecutors as well as other probes by the Manhattan D.A.’s office, the NYPD, the LAPD and others globally.
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