Over two years after the first exposés on Harvey Weinstein and allegations of rampant sexual harassment and assaults were first published, the Oscar-winning producer’s criminal trial is set to begin today in New York City, kind of.
If found guilty of the five felony charges that he faces based on allegations from two women and indictments from a grand jury convened by District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., the 67-year-old Weinstein could face life in prison in what is the first major trial of the #MeToo era.
A number of alleged Weinstein victims such as Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette will be outside the lower Manhattan courthouse this morning to face the producer when he and his defense team arrive at about 9 AM ET. The self-described Silence Breakers are said to plan to attend the majority of the trial, as are others of the more than 80 women who have gone public with claims of Weinstein’s vile actions and professional strong-arming over the decades.
Having said that, with around a nearly unprecedented 2,000 extra summons sent out by Manhattan County to potential jurors for the extremely high-profile case, it could actually be weeks before a trial starts. Even before the expected to be contentious two-week-long jury selection process starts, today will see Justice James Burke conduct a hearing on various remaining pre-trial motions and set the schedule for what is now anticipated to be an eight-week affair.
About 100 potential jurors are expected to be in court each day this week as they are whittled down to a clean dozen.
Among the rulings the New York Supreme Court judge will address is whether cameras will be allowed in the courtroom. Having refused such media in previous hearings since Weinstein was first arrested in late May 2018, indications are that Burke is leaning towards not allowing camera access for the trial proper. With just 170 seats in total in his courtroom on the 15th floor of NYC’s 100 Centre Street, jury selection alone will make space tight – not to mention the vast media presence. Today saw nearly 100 accredited journalists begin lining up in the cold Big Apple pre-dawn of 5 AM ET to make it in.
Led by Donna Rotunno, Weinstein’s latest defense team had attempted unsuccessfully to have the case moved out of Manhattan amidst claims the media spotlight has rendered it impossible for the accused to get an impartial jury and hence a fair trial.
“That is a concern, but our job is to demonstrate to any group of people who will be weighing in judgment that this case is about two individuals, both of whom had been in admitted long-term relationships with Harvey,” Rotunno told Deadline of the strategy the defense will take over the coming months. “Once a jury is empaneled, they will learn that their legal responsibility is to look at the evidence and the allegations alone, and not to consider any other noise or agenda.”
In that sense, and with testimony of several other women, including Sopranos actress Annabella Sciorra, being permitted as examples of prior bad acts by Weinstein, the jury selection takes on added significance. Any sense that the process is tainted and that Weinstein received a less than fair trial could be an autobahn to appeal.
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 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 this year when a new indictment was added.
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 women that he sexually assaulted or sexually harassed them – with a number of those women reluctantly participating in the floated $25 million settlement that is part of an overall $45 million deal. Weinstein is also still currently under investigation by federal prosecutors as well as multiple probes by the Manhattan D.A.’s office, the L.A. County D.A, the NYPD, the LAPD and more globally Scotland Yard.