UPDATED, 12:45PM ET: The jury in Harvey Weinstein’s criminal rape trial has been seated after a final series of brief verbal clashes in a New York courtroom over the gender and racial makeup of the panel.
The jury consists of seven men and five women. Three alternates were also designated – fewer than the customary six alternates.
Selecting the jury has taken nearly two weeks as hundreds of candidates were vetted through a multi-step process.
New York Supreme Court Judge James Burke reminded the jurors to “refrain from any and all research or communication [about the case] either in person or electronically.”
Media interest in the case will remain intense, the judge emphasized. Referring to the Senate impeachment trial, which started earlier Friday in Washington, Burke said, “The president and Senate are eclipsing some of this right now, which is good .. but this is not going to be easy.”
One of the last jurors to be seated caused a lengthy and extraordinary exchange between the defense and prosecution. The woman, who is an author, will have her latest novel published later this year. On her website, she describes one of the strands of the book’s plot pertaining to “predatory older men.” Defense attorney Damian Cherone objected to her being endorsed by the D.A. and the judge. “This is exactly the kind of person who should not be fit to serve on this jury,” he said, adding that the woman’s answers under questioning about her book and her views of sexual assault, had been “wishy-washy.”
Burke disagreed. “I accept her answers under oath,” he said. Because the defense had exhausted all of its “peremptory” challenges, it had to appeal to the judge to intervene.
PREVIOUSLY: Jury selection in the criminal rape trial of Harvey Weinstein neared the finish line Friday, after some final skirmishes between prosecutors and the defense team over who should sit on the 12-person panel.
Ten of the 12 jurors had been confirmed two hours into the day’s court proceedings, with New York Supreme Court Judge James Burke affirming plans to finalize the full dozen before the holiday weekend. The trial has already run for two weeks and will likely last through mid-March.
All three of the jurors added Friday morning are white men.
Weinstein’s lawyers exhausted all 20 of the peremptory challenges they are permitted under New York law. In raising its objections on the other side, the prosecution repeated earlier assertions that the defense is discriminating against white women, who are seen as likely to be less sympathetic to Weinstein. The back and forth offered something of a preview of opening arguments and the pillars of the cases the two.
Weinstein, 67, faces five charges of sexual assault stemming from allegations by two women related to incidents in 2006 and 2013. He has insisted that all sexual encounters were consensual. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
“They are systematically trying to exclude a class of people,” assistant D.A. Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said, alluding to white women. Defense attorney Arthur Aidala waved away the charge, pointing to some examples of white women from among the dismissed jurors.
Aidala appeared to tip his hand when questioning prospective jurors, who were shuttled in and out of the courtroom’s jury box in groups of 20. “Who here thinks a person can have consensual sexual relations with someone at work in order to get ahead at work?” Four or five hands went up.
Later, when the jurors had left the courtroom, attorneys and Burke scrutinized remaining candidates. Aidala objected to one potential juror, partially on the basis of her saying she had been sexually, physically and verbally abused by previous boyfriends. “Those exact subjects are going to be on display in this case,” he said. Another candidate, who is in her early 20s, “was not even born when some of the alleged behavior occurred,” Aidala complained. She therefore would not be able to grasp that, in the defense team’s view, “the ’90s were a different time” — an assertion that echoed Weinstein’s initial explanation for his behavior when first confronted by the New York Times in 2017.
Burke refused to allow the first woman to be dismissed. “Being a victim of domestic violence does not disqualify you from jury service.”
The judge seemed slightly on edge during several exchanges with Aidala. He emphatically shot down yet another effort Friday morning by the defense to move the trial out of New York City due to intense media coverage. Aidala waved a copy of Vanity Fair magazine, which just published a feature article with comments about Weinstein from 30 of his accusers. “This article is going to be everywhere,” Aidala said, making it impossible for Weinstein to receive a fair trial. Even in mounting his effort, Aidala conceded he had “lost count” of how many times he had sought a change of venue.
“Your application is denied,” Burke said. “Nothing you’ve said makes logical sense to me. … This matter is closed for now.”