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Jury selection in Weinstein case could prove to be a tough challenge

Jan 09,2020
On Sunday, Harvey Weinstein was a punchline at the Golden Globes. On Monday, he was hit with new sex-crime charges in Los Angeles. And on Tuesday, he and his lawyers walked into court in New York to begin picking the jury that will decide the fate of the man widely seen as the biggest monster of the Me Too movement.

Selecting the jury for the Hollywood mogul’s rape and sexual assault trial is likely to be a painstaking, weeks-long process, made complicated by the high stakes, heavy publicity and public revulsion toward him.

In fact, one-third of the first 120 prospective jurors summoned for the case were promptly sent home after the judge asked if there was anyone who could not be impartial and about 40 hands went up.

Weinstein’s lawyers unsuccessfully tried to delay jury selection in light of the new case filed in Los Angeles, asking for a “cooling-off period” to allow the publicity to subside.

“For a prosecutor, this is Christmas morning - the morning of jury selection to have him smeared everywhere,” Weinstein lawyer Arthur Aidala said.

But Judge James Burke expressed confidence that the jurors would know that defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and he pressed on.

The 67-year-old Weinstein, who shuffled into court on a walker after recent back surgery, is charged in New York with raping one woman in a hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing a sex act on another in 2006, and could get life in prison if convicted. In the Los Angeles case, which will be tried later, he is accused of sexually assaulting two women on back-to-back nights in 2013.

The former studio boss behind Oscar winners “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love” has said any sexual activity was consensual.

Jury selection is expected to stretch on for at least two weeks, far longer than for a non-celebrity trial, with lawyers delving into each potential juror’s knowledge and opinions about the case. Opening statements shouldn’t be expected before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 20, the judge said.

“The defense team is concerned about widespread media coverage of sexual assault and harassment claims against Weinstein, and of jurors prejudging the case,” said Cornell University law professor Valerie Hans. On the other side of the case, “prosecutors are wary of prospective jurors who might reveal a predisposition to blame the victims, even in this age of #MeToo.”

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 to Weinstein, who ambled toward the gallery with his walker, 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. New pools of prospective jurors will be summoned to court each morning in the coming days.

Tuesday got off to a rough start, with the judge threatening to jail Weinstein for violating court rules by texting in the courtroom.

“Is this really the way you want to end up in jail, by texting and violating a court order?” Burke asked the iPhone-clutching movie mogul, cutting Weinstein off before he could respond.

Though he declined to issue a gag order, the judge implored Weinstein’s lawyers to stop attacking potential witnesses in their public comments on the case.

“It’s going to be hard enough to get a fair and impartial jury,” Burke said. “None of this will help that, attain that goal.”

AP