Events on the West Coast and cell phones dominated the early part of the second day of Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial in New York City on Tuesday – and almost landed the disgraced producer behind bars.
With far less press and far fewer onlookers than Monday at the 15th-floor courtroom of the Criminal Courts Building in lower Manhattan, Judge James Burke threatened Weinstein that he would toss him in state prison for relentless texting and using his cell phone in court.
“Is this really the way you want to end up in jail for the rest of your life by texting in violation of an order?” the Empire State Supreme Court Justice sharply asked the gray-suited producer, who had moved up to sit at the defense table. Cautioning Weinstein not to say much, the clearly irritated Burke then turned his ire on attorneys Donna Rotunno and Arthur Aidala for letting their client have a phone despite having repeatedly been ordered not to – as is the strictly enforced case for everyone in Burke’s courtroom.
“He did turn over his cell phone to somebody, but then he had two more,” Burke snapped at Aidala as a closed-eyed Weinstein lowered his head at the defense table. With repeated apologies, the defense assured Burke they would ensure that Weinstein did not have access to a cell phone in court going forward.
“I’m not looking for apologies, I’m looking for compliance,” snarled Burke.
Cell phones were not the sole fast track to a jail cell the 67-year old producer faced this morning. On a day that was supposed to be filled with the fairly monotonous pre-screening of a jury for the high-profile New York case, the rape and sexual battery charges laid against Weinstein by Los Angeles County District Attorney yesterday loomed large.
“There is a risk that the defendant will realize that evidence against him is overwhelming,” Manhattan Deputy D.A. Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told Burke and the court of the new charges against Weinstein, and the potential flight risk she feared as the NYC rape case progressed and the Los Angeles case potentially followed.
“We are asking you to remand him,” the prosecutor declared.
Currently out on $5 million bail with travel restrictions and an ankle monitor for the New York case, Weinstein faces a $5 million bail request from Los Angeles County D.A. Jackie Lacey’s office. That sum clearly wasn’t enough for Illuzzi-Orbon.
“We think that the people’s request to remand him is unnecessary,” Rotunno responded, noting that West Coast officials themselves haven’t asked for Weinstein to be taken into custody. Burke agreed, rejecting the prosecution’s request and setting bail for the L.A. case as the same as the NYC case.
Defense lawyer Rotunno also took the opportunity to take a dig at her counterpart, noting that the L.A. D.A. had spoken Monday about being in constant contact with Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr’s office, even though the East Coast team had said otherwise.
“If anyone believes that, I’d like to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge,” Rotunno said in court of Lacey’s contention at a press conference Monday that it was “coincidence” her office had gone public with the charges on the opening day of the NYC criminal trial.
In that vein, the defense team sought an adjournment of the current proceedings because of the new Los Angeles case, as Deadline exclusively reported last night.
“It is the talk of the town,” Aidala stated, telling tales of people’s phones “blowing up” with news alerts and restaurant chatter he encountered last night at dinner.
“He is entitled to due process …he is entitled to a jury that is fair and impartial,” the well-dressed lawyer said to Burke on Weinstein’s behalf. “We are asking for an adjournment to pick a fair and impartial jury,” added Aidala in what is as much a move to seed a potential appeal if required as it was to hit the pause button. “Don’t we need a cooling-off period?”
There is a growing POV that the L.A. case will never see the inside of a courtroom and was as much a political move for Lacey’s re-election bid.
As anticipated, Burke quickly dispensed with the adjournment request, as well as additional requests for more time to question prospective jurors and adding a new question about media coverage of the L.A. case to the jury questionnaire. Calling the charges out of the City of Angels “meaningless” to the case in front of them, Burke did concede that the defense may be allowed to present instruction to jurors about the West Coast case at some point.
Jury selection in New York is expected to last nearly two weeks, with over 2,000 summonses having been sent out for the high-profile trial. To that end, the rest of today is scheduled to begin pre-screening those jurors. Groups of 125 individuals are being brought into the courtroom for questioning, a process that will continue until the final 12 are selected.
Prior to entering the courtroom, potential jurors were given a 16-page questionnaire to fill out (read it here). Among the general questions of residency, gender and can they commit to at least six weeks for the trial, there were a series of inquiries about whether the potential jurors or their family members have worked in the entertainment industry and can they truly be impartial in the extensively covered matter “based only on the evidence you hear in Court?”
One thing all sides and Judge Burke agree on is that finding a jury acceptable to all will be a near Herculean feat, even within two weeks.
“January 21 will see opening statements or we’ll start all over again,” Judge Burke told those in attendance after a long-ish sidebar at the bench with the lawyers from both sides to work out the schedule. The trial itself is anticipated to last at least eight weeks, going into early spring – if there are no more bumps on the road, actions by other jurisdictions or other legal potholes.
This morning actually initially started out pretty smoothly, though became tense fast.
Manhattan Deputy D.A. Illuzzi-Orbon arrived around 9:03 AM ET this morning with a hunched over Weinstein, who came with his walker again, and his defense team following about five minutes later. Almost immediately, Weinstein’s chief lawyer Rotunno and one of her colleagues went over to speak with Illuzzi-Orbon and her fellow Deputy D.A Meghan Hast at the front of the courtroom. While it was impossible to hear what the quartet discussed, all had rather stern looks on their faces as they talked.
We now know it was hard time they were having a hard talk about.
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 this 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 more than 60 other women that he sexually assaulted or sexually harassed them. At present, a number of those women are still reluctantly participating in the floated $25 million settlement that is part of an overall $45 million deal on the table. In addition to the L.A. charges of yesterday and the NYC rape trial, Weinstein is also still currently under investigation by federal prosecutors as well as other probes by the Manhattan D.A.’s office, the NYPD, the LAPD and more globally.