(UPDATED with judge’s ruling) About a month before Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial is set to begin, the much-accused producer’s latest defense team and the Manhattan District Attorney got support from a judge, who closed a pivotal hearing Friday to the public and the press.
New York Supreme Court Justice James Burke rejected appeals from press organizations — a roster of major New York and national outlets — who insisted that the public’s right to follow the case supersedes privacy or fair-trial concerns.
Allowing the 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. There was “no reasonable alternative” to closing the courtroom exists that would ensure a fair trial for Weinstein, he added.
Before getting to the actual matter at hand today, on if others who have alleged sexual assault by Weinstein can be brought to the stand during the actual trial to give what is known as prior “bad acts” testimony, as well as other evidence, the court said earlier this month that it “will conduct a preliminary hearing on the issue of whether the courtroom should be closed, as well as on the sealing of the attendant written submissions, and will render a decision.”
A number of outlets like the AP, The New York Times and the New Yorker have been fighting the joint effort to keep the matter and submitted motions from both sides from inquiring eyes.
This “is a very important day for decisions in this case that will have a major impact on the upcoming trial,” activist attorney Gloria Allred told Deadline of today’s hearing, which she will be attending. ‘It is a difficult issue for the court and I cannot predict the result,” the lawyer noted. Allred represents one of the two women for whom charges were filed in this case and another accuser who could end up being a potential witness.
Looking at June 3 trial start, 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 for the Oscar-winning producer under the Empire State’s 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.
Admittedly for very different reasons and with the knowledge that lawyers for the media have said they will almost immediately appeal if they are kicked to curb, this has spun into a shotgun marriage of convenience of sorts for the lawyers.
Led by Assistant D.A. Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, prosecutors want the hearing and the documents closed as an insurance against a possible future appeal by Weinstein that his “right to a fair trial by an impartial jury” was prejudiced. They also say that they are seeking to protect the identity of women who may not end up giving testimony in the trial.
Similar to the now imprisoned Bill Cosby’s then-lawyers’ unsuccessful attempt to block several alleged past victims of “America’s Dad” taking the stand in his 2018 rape retrial, Weinstein’s Ronald Sullivan and Jose Baez-led crew are opposed to any women claiming assault from testifying or any “bad acts or uncharged crimes” evidence being admissible.
However, in wanting to keep this all out of the public spotlight, they also assert “these motions concern alleged, uncharged, and unproven misconduct that may ultimately never be allowed in evidence.” Furthermore, for a matter that has been at the center of a media tornado since the NYT expose of October 2017, Weinstein’s hired guns brazenly insist that coverage of the pretrial hearings would risk exposing “prospective Jurors to such material” and “will prejudice both Mr. Weinstein’s and the People’s right to a fair trial and an impartial jury.”
Between the lines, the grounds for appeal if Weinstein is found guilty are pretty clear from both sides – again for different reasons and context.
Along with being accused by Ashley Judd in a now temporarily halted case and failing to get a sex trafficking class action tossed out, Weinstein is also facing allegations from more than 60 other women that he sexually assaulted or sexually harassed them. In that vein, Weinstein is under investigation by federal prosecutors as well as probes by the Manhattan D.A.’s office and the NYPD.
Additional allegations against Weinstein have been reviewed by the LAPD, which sent an initial trio of cases to the L.A. County D.A. in February last year. Another case was handed over to that same office in in August. As UK police continue their investigation, the Beverly Hills Police in January 2018 passed two cases of sexual assault its says occurred in their jurisdiction to Lacey’s office.