Weinstein judge warns jury pool: No tweeting about case

Michael R. Sisak
Associated Press

New York – As if picking a jury for Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial wasn’t complicated enough, some potential jurors have been posting on social media about their involvement in the New York City case, violating court rules that could land them behind bars, the judge said Wednesday as the selection process stretched into a seventh day.

Harvey Weinstein arrives for jury selection in his trial on rape and sexual assault charges, in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.

“The court was alerted recently that a few prospective jurors from last week went on Facebook and Twitter as if I hadn’t just said not to, what was it, a hundred times? A thousand times? Was anything I said ambiguous?” Judge James Burke said, warning the latest batch of prospective jurors not to do the same.

Burke has incorporated the cautionary tale, which stems from posts made last week, into his introductory remarks the last few days as he’s welcomed groups of 120 or so potential jurors into his spacious, if not austere, Manhattan courtroom.

In all, more than 600 potential jurors have been summoned for the high-profile case since jury selection began Jan. 7. Many were eliminated from contention early on after indicating they couldn’t be fair and impartial. Fewer than 200 will be back for additional questioning beginning Thursday.

Burke said he expects a panel of 12 jurors and six alternates to be seated in time for opening statements and testimony on Jan. 22. He told prospective jurors that he expected the trial to finish up in early March.

One social media star who isn’t expected to make the cut: supermodel Gigi Hadid, who reported for jury duty Monday and wound up in the Weinstein pool. Hadid, who has 51.2 million Instagram followers, told Burke she could “keep an open mind on the facts,” but the sides agreed later that having her on the jury would be too much of a commotion.

Weinstein, 67, is accused of raping a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and sexually assaulting another in 2006. The former studio boss behind such Oscar winners as “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love” has said any sexual activity was consensual.

Walking the latest batches of prospective jurors through what to expect – and what not to do – the judge said anyone posting about their jury service in the Weinstein case faces being held in contempt of court and consequences including up to 30 days in jail. He warned them not to speak about the case with anyone.

Weinstein’s lawyers raised the social media issue in court papers last week. They cited postings from several people they said were prospective jurors as they made an unsuccessful push to conduct the remainder of jury selection in private, out of the view of the news media and the public.

One man purportedly in the running for Weinstein’s jury tweeted about leveraging “serving on the jury of a high-profile case” to promote a novel he wrote. Another potential juror reacted with a laughing emoji when someone asked if she’d been picked, according to Weinstein’s lawyers.

The disgraced movie mogul and his lawyers spent the first hour of Wednesday’s court session behind closed doors, working with prosecutors to whittle down the pool of prospective jurors by examining responses to a questionnaire each was asked to fill out.

The survey asked, among other things, if they could ignore media coverage and decide the case based only on evidence heard in court. They were also asked if they or someone they knew had been a victim of sexual violence.

About 70 of the 120 prospective jurors summoned to court Wednesday were asked to return Thursday, though some could find themselves sent home rather quickly once the lawyers get a chance to read through their questionnaires.

The remainder of Wednesday’s group was dismissed for various reasons, most of them because they indicated they could not be fair and impartial.

Mazdack Rassi, the co-founder of Milk Makeup and Milk Studios, a photography and production house, was rejected from the jury after saying he knew Weinstein and his family, and didn’t think he could be impartial.

Rassi’s wife, Zanna Roberts Rassi, a fashion editor, has appeared on several seasons of “Project Runway: All Stars,” a reality competition show produced by Weinstein’s former entertainment studio.

Rassi didn’t mention it in court, but he was involved in producing a series of short films in 2008 with “Friends” star David Schwimmer that highlighted various forms of sexual harassment.

Another potential juror was dismissed after she said she knew actress Rosie Perez, who the judge said could come up in the case.

A woman who identified herself as a former New York City prosecutor said she knew lead Weinstein prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, but pledged that wouldn’t stop her from being “completely fair and impartial.”

She was sent home anyway.


Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak