If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again is clearly the mantra of Harvey Weinstein’s defense lawyers in the much-accused producer’s rape trial in New York City.
Having failed repeatedly to get the case moved out of Manhattan, toss media out of the courtroom, gain a self-described “cooling off period,” and get the Empire State Supreme Court Justice to recuse himself, the Donna Rotunno-led crew once again submitted a motion of venue change Wednesday.
“This Court has an obligation to step in at this point and bait the media frenzy that has plagued the New York Supreme Court courthouse and its surroundings on Centre Street since the trial proceedings began on January 6,” reads the latest motion for a new venue, which would hit the restart button on the trial that started this month and is slated to hear opening arguments January 22. “It is undoubtedly the case that prejudicial media coverage has lit the “fires of prejudice” (Groppi v. Wisconsin, 400 U.S. 505,510 (1971)) in New York County, thus preventing Mr. Weinstein from receiving a constitutionally fair trial here,” the paperwork from defense co-counsel Arthur Aidala says (read it here).
Judge James Burke chastised the defense just last week for such obstructing legal moves. Attempting to keep the trains on time for the long-festering case, Burke also disputed the idea of any media frenzy and actually complimented the press in court for their behavior. That is in contrast to the walker-using Weinstein, who was threatened with imprisonment last week after texting on his cell phone in court despite repeated orders to discontinue the habit.
“The right to a fair trial is a bedrock principle of American democracy,” today’s hyperbolic instant motion declares, seeking a hearing ASAP as jury selection continues on the case that could see the 67-year-old Weinstein behind bars for life if convicted. “This Court should grant Mr. Weinstein’s motion to change venue to the superior court of another county in New York state. For the same reasons, this Court should stay the trial in. New York County until it has had such opportunity to rule on Mr. Weinstein’s present motion.”
Fronted by Assistant D.A. Joan Illuzzi-Orbon in the chief prosecution role, the Manhattan County District Attorney”s office of Cyrus Vance Jr. declined comment on today’s motion. However, don’t expect the D.A. to stay quiet long; I hear a filed response could come as early as this evening.
Nearing the end of the second week of jury selection and with several hundred contenders already having passed though Burke’s 15th floor courtroom in Manhattan’s Criminal Courts Building, it is doubtful this latest motion has any chance of success. Yet, the savvy defense team knows that. Like past recent motions, today’s filing is about building a case for appeal if Weinstein is found guilty of the five felony counts he faces. It is more fodder to claim the defendant was denied a truly fair trial, and the lawyers making sure they earn their hefty fees.
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, a number of those 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 that the Los Angeles District Attorney announced last week and the NYC rape trial itself, 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.
With this latest motion, Weinstein and his lawyers may be bringing to life that poignant Samuel Beckett phrase: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”