Weinstein judge names Charlize Theron, 80 others who may come up
The judge presiding over Harvey Weinstein’s New York rape trial read off a list of more than 80 people who may testify or whose names could come up, including the actors Salma Hayek, Charlize Theron and Rosie Perez.
After ticking off the names on Tuesday, New York State Supreme Court Justice James Burke questioned prospective jurors in his robing room about any hardships that could interfere with their service. Jury candidates are also being asked whether they’ve ever been the victim of a crime, including a sexual one.
“Have you, a family member or a close friend ever been the victim of physical or sexual abuse, either as a child or adult?” reads one of the queries in the 16-page questionnaire that launched the selection process.
While not surprising given the nature of the case, the question reflects the difficulty lawyers may have in selecting a jury of 12, and six alternates, to decide the fate of the disgraced producer, who stands accused of raping one woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on another in 2006 in his apartment in the city. Weinstein has said any sexual activity was consensual.
Although the charges relate to two women, more than 80 have come forward in the past couple of years with accusations of abuse or assault against Weinstein, the subject of reams of press coverage. On Monday, Los Angeles prosecutors announced a separate set of sexual assault charges against Weinstein. At least some of the 500 potential jurors summoned to the courthouse in lower Manhattan are almost certain to have read about them.
On Tuesday, more than 120 would-be jurors were brought to the 15th-floor courtroom where Weinstein’s trial will be held. There, Burke told them about the case and introduced the famous defendant. Weinstein, 67, rose gingerly, clutching his walker, then turned around briefly and nodded at the audience.
Before breaking for lunch, Burke dismissed about 40 people from the jury pool after they indicated they couldn’t be impartial. Those who remained started filling out the questionnaire. The form has 72 items, including questions about occupation, hobbies, family and work history and whether the prospective jurors have ever been involved in a court case. For the sexual abuse question, it leaves space for description.
Burke told the jury candidates they should expect to return to court on Jan. 16 for the voir dire process – questioning them one at a time, for the judge to get an impartial panel and for the lawyers to gain maximum advantage. He said opening arguments could take place as early as Jan. 21 and that the trial could last until March 6.
The challenge facing the defense team was magnified Tuesday when Burke denied a request by lawyer Arthur Aidala to delay jury selection because of the announcement of the Los Angeles charges.
“For a prosecutor, this is Christmas morning,” Aidala argued, brandishing Tuesday’s newspapers. “How much better can it get on the morning of the jury selection to be smeared?”
The judge shook his head and said the Los Angeles case was “next to meaningless” when it came to picking a fair jury in New York.
“The jury will know that he’s been arrested and charged with a crime” and “is presumed innocent,” Burke said. “That’s the way most trials will start, and that’s the way this trial will start.”
To make matters worse for Weinstein’s lawyers, Burke upbraided their client for defying his earlier order banning him from texting in the courtroom, saying he’d seen Weinstein with no fewer than four mobile phones in court on Tuesday morning and warning him he could be jailed for flouting the order.
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As Weinstein and his lawyers scrambled to respond, Weinstein told the court, “I wasn’t involved,” while Aidala said, “I wasn’t aware.”
“Mr. Weinstein, I implore you, don’t answer the following question,” said Burke, who’ll be the one to sentence Weinstein if he’s convicted. “Is this really the way you want to end up in jail for the rest of your life, by texting in violation of a court order?”
The challenge of finding an impartial jury that can hear a trial that could stretch into the first week of March was underscored when the judge announced at the end of the session that fewer than a third of those summoned to court had filled out the questionnaire, while most potential jurors had been dismissed.
“Almost everybody else who talked to us about scheduling were simply full-time students who had to go back to college and were excused on that basis,” Burke said. “And we’ll do it all over tomorrow.”
Weinstein and his lawyers declined to comment as they left court.
Hayek has said Weinstein sabotaged her career after she rebuffed a series of sexual advances. Perez told the New Yorker she counseled Annabella Sciorra over her alleged abuse by Weinstein. Theron has said he falsely claimed the two had been sexually intimate as a way of manipulating her. Weinstein has denied any wrongdoing. The Los Angeles prosecutors say they plan to call Sciorra to testify.