Jury selection is expected to continue in a Manhattan court on Wednesday for former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial, as lawyers try to find impartial New Yorkers to decide his fate.
Weinstein returned to the courthouse Wednesday for a second day of what is expected to be a lengthy jury selection process. The 67-year-old, who is recovering from back surgery, briefly set aside his walker and appeared to stumble slightly as he inched up the courthouse steps, but held fast to the handrail.
The process got off to a dramatic start a day earlier when a visibly angry Judge James Burke caught Weinstein texting in court and threatened him with jail if he did it again.
“Is this really the way you want to end up in jail — by texting and violating a court order?” Burke asked the cell-clutching former movie mogul, cutting off Weinstein before he could respond.
Weinstein is out on bail, but is required to wear a tracking device on his ankle, which has been visible as he entered court.
He has pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting two women in New York. He faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault. Since 2017, more than 80 women, including many famous actresses, have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct dating back decades.
The Weinstein allegations helped boost the #MeToo movement and encourage women to go public with misconduct allegations against powerful men.
Weinstein has denied the allegations, saying any sexual encounters he had were consensual. The former film producer made his mark with critically acclaimed films such as The English Patient, Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love.
Burke has denied requests by Weinstein’s legal team to move the trial out of the media glare of Manhattan or to delay the start given the challenges of finding impartial jurors.
On Monday, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced charges against Weinstein of sexual assault of two unidentified women in 2013. Burke said the jury would be instructed that the charges in California are not evidence of guilt in the New York trial.
Prospective jurors consider press coverage, trial length
Burke kicked off jury selection on Tuesday by speaking to 120 potential jurors in the courtroom about the importance of jury service and telling them the identity of the defendant.
“Having heard of him, or even having heard the allegations made against him in the press, does not disqualify you,” he told them.
The prospective jurors were given questionnaires asking, among other things, if they could ignore media coverage and decide the case based only on evidence heard in court. They were also told the trial will last six weeks, which could weed out many parents, college students and others with pressing day-to-day obligations.
They were introduced as a group and were read a list of names that could come up at trial, including actresses Salma Hayek, Charlize Theron and Rosie Perez. By the end of the day, just 36 potential jurors remained. Those who said they could not be impartial or could not serve for other reasons were dismissed on Tuesday, while the remainder were told to report back on Jan. 16 for further vetting.
New pools of prospective jurors will be summoned to court each morning in the coming days.