While the real action is set to unfold in January when Harvey Weinstein finally faces criminal trial, a hearing Friday morning brought spirited jousting between his defense team and prosecutors over two separate requests by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
One of the asks, which took up most of the 45-minute hearing, was to boost Weinstein’s bail from the current $1 million cash level to $5 million due to a series of violations in recent months pertaining to electronic monitoring equipment. Assistant D.A. Joan Illuzzi-Orbon accused Weinstein of “flagrantly disregarding” the bail terms. Defense attorney Donna Rotunno described them as mere “technical glitches” and said her client is “eager to go to trial.”
New York Supreme Court Judge James Burke postponed ruling on the bail issue, setting a continuation hearing for December 11.
The more eyebrow-raising request, at least to media types following the case, was for what Burke described as “effectively a gag order.” Illuzzi-Orbon said she made the ask in response to information reported to prosecutors by one of the witnesses in the case. The witness said it appeared that Rotunno was set to appear in a television interview “saying that the witness kept changing her story,” Illuzzi-Orbon said. “The People are not going on TV to talk about the strength of our case.” She characterized Rotunno’s approach as “a political campaign trying to sway the jury pool before jury selection.”
Weinstein, clad in a grey suit, used a cane and needed help getting in and out of the courthouse. He appeared more frail than in his previous court appearances this fall.
Defense attorney Damon Cheronis told Burke the defense was not familiar with the particulars of the witness accusation, but he asserted the defense team’s right to make some representations in the media. “We don’t believe anything Ms. Rotunno said crosses any lines,” he said. “The state is lucky … Every day, there’s another [negative] story about Mr. Weinstein,” meaning the prosecution doesn’t need to talk as much to the media.
Burke read verbatim a passage from the current New York statute providing guidelines for what can be discussed with media before a trial while still ensuring a fair process for defendants. After reading the statute, he affirmed, “I’m sure you’re all familiar with that,” and said the prosecution request was denied.
The trial in January is certain to be an all-out media circus, given Weinstein’s status as the initial #MeToo figure, with the dozens of accusations against him in late 2017 triggering a movement that continues to resonate. Among countless other media outlets, the resurrected Court TV (which is now run by a division of local TV station owner E.W. Scripps) will have an extensive live presence at a studio next door to the courthouse. Rotunno has already begun appearing on Court TV discussing the case.
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.
In asking for the much higher bail amount, Illuzzi-Orbon cited several instances of Weinstein either forgetting his monitoring bracelet or being otherwise unaccounted for. One time, he went to New York City without his bracelet, she said. Other times, notifications were triggered that the equipment was not on his person. She also said it’s clear Weinstein can afford higher bail, citing the sale of five properties over the past two years, which she said netted him $60 million, as well as his use of private jets for travel.
Illuzzi-Orbon pressed her case for stiffer bail, describing what she considers a high degree of flight risk. “This man could fly out on a private jet, which he has done, to another country, just like that,” she said.
Rotunno waved off the concerns. “It’s very difficult to travel commercial when you’re Harvey Weinstein,” she countered, noting the security issues with his electronic monitoring equipment.
Numerous times when the monitor alarms went off, she contended, the cause was poor cellular reception in and around Weinstein’s home in suburban Bedford, NY. “Everyone knows exactly where he is at all times,” she said.
Burke then called all parties to the bench for a private conference, which lasted about 15 minutes. When it ended, he said the matter would need to be revisited December 11.
Dominic Patten contributed to this report.