Harvey Weinstein defense knocked white women off jury, D.A. says

Patricia Hurtado

The jury for Harvey Weinstein’s New York rape trial has been selected and is made up of seven men and five women, with Friday’s selection of three white men bringing fierce objections from prosecutors who said the defense had intentionally kept white women off the case.

Friday also brought further questioning of jurors that highlighted an important element of Weinstein’s defense – that any sexual relations with the fallen movie mogul were consensual.

During arguments outside the hearing of potential jurors, prosecutor Joan Illuzzi repeatedly blasted Weinstein’s lawyers as coming up with what she called “pretextual” reasons to exclude what she said was “every white woman” from the panel with their peremptory challenges. The defense has said white women would identify with the two alleged victims in the case, as well as with the four women whom prosecutors will call as witnesses to show a pattern of “prior bad acts.”

Harvey Weinstein gestures as he walks by reporters as he leaves a Manhattan courtroom after attending jury selection for his trial on rape and sexual assault charges, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 in New York.

Each side in the case has 20 such challenges it can use to strike people from the jury without giving a reason. But New York State Supreme Court Justice James Burke told the lawyers they had to show they weren’t motivated by bias and didn’t exhibit a pattern of discrimination, by race, gender or any other category protected under New York law.

In the end, three African-American women, two white women, six white men and an African-American man were selected.

Earlier, defense attorney Arthur Aidala said one young woman should be excluded because she was from an upper-middle-class background and lacked the life experience to understand testimony about events that occurred before she was born, or to assess the truthfulness of the female witnesses. He also excluded a Latina model with an acting background who he said would likely identify with the Weinstein witnesses.

“The modeling photos, they’re staged,” he told Burke. “It’s exactly the same. She was a beauty queen, and she said she was an actress who didn’t make it. Who knows how she’s going to hold that against Mr. Weinstein, who was the person who was doing the selecting? I believe that’s a race-neutral reason.”

More than 80 women have accused Weinstein, 67, of sexual harassment or assault, many saying he used his power over their careers to abuse them. The New York criminal case against him, in which he is charged with rape and predatory sexual assault, involves two women.

Burke asked Aidala to answer the prosecution’s argument that the defense had used its peremptory challenges to strike “all white women” from the jury. Aidala noted that the defense had selected black women.

“So you discriminate equally against everybody?” the judge asked in jest.

“I try,” Aidala said with a smile.

Nonetheless, Burke disagreed with Illuzzi’s argument that the defense had worked to keep white women off the panel.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers, together with Burke, have spent the past two weeks narrowing the field of prospective jurors from about 500 Manhattanites summoned last week, finally bringing them in for questioning in groups of 20.

Aidala saved a particularly pointed question for his last of the group that started the day on Friday, signaling an element of the defense.

“Who here thinks that someone could have consensual sexual relations with someone at work to get ahead at work?” he asked the group of 20 seated in the jury box.

At least 10, mostly men, raised their hands.

In addition to the jury, an African-American woman, a Latina and a white man were selected on Friday as the three alternates in case any of the 12 can’t continue to serve. Burke has set Wednesday for the start of opening arguments.

Weinstein is alleged to have raped a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and performed a forcible sex act on another in 2006 in his apartment in the city.

The case is People v. Weinstein, 450293/2018, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).