By JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock.
Harvey Weinstein’s latest pre-trial hearing over his sexual assault case was closed to the press on Friday, with Judge James Burke ruling that the level of media scrutiny on the case could taint jury selection and ultimately impede Weinstein’s right to a fair trial. Both the defense and the prosecution argued to keep the hearing closed to the public.
The ruling was made during an hour-long hearing on Friday morning prior to the hearing in question, which will revolve around who may or may not testify in Weinstein’s upcoming trial—aside from the two women who were named in Weinstein’s indictment from May 2018. While giving his assessment, Judge Burke said the pre-trial hearing should be closed in part to protect the names of potential witnesses who might never actually be used in trial, particularly those who are sexual assault victims. “They deserve to have their identities protected from public disclosure,” he noted.
At the initial press hearing, attorney Robert Balin argued on behalf of several news organizations—including The New York Times, The New Yorker (also owned by Vanity Fair’s parent company, Condé Nast), and the Associated Press—pushing back against the motion. The press, Balin argued, had a First Amendment right to sit in the pre-trial hearing, as it is “a matter of immense and legitimate public interest.” A representative for Court TV and a reporter for New York magazine also urged Judge Burke to keep the hearing open to the press.
They spoke after remarks from Weinstein attorney Marianne Bertuna (the first female attorney to speak before Judge Burke on Weinstein’s behalf since this case began) and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, both of whom argued that opening the pre-trial hearing could potentially influence jury selection. Bertuna, in her statement, said “the court cannot be complicit with the press,” characterizing the last few months of the high-profile case as an “insatiable media frenzy.”
In her statement, Illuzzi-Orbon noted that not every name that would be mentioned in the pre-trial hearing has been made public, and they should thus be protected—as Judge Burke later pointed out. In his ruling, the judge also pointed out that a motion like this traditionally comes from the defense team; over the course of Weinstein’s months-long case, this has been one of the rare instances in which both the prosecution and the defense have fallen on the same side.
Weinstein was present throughout, flanked by members of his legal team. During the afternoon lunch break for the pre-trial hearing, where the press was not allowed, he and his team left the courthouse and went to a nearby car, mostly ignoring questions from dozens of media figures waiting outside. Though Weinstein was largely quiet, he did break his silence to tell nearby reporters that he was going to a pizza place.
The former Hollywood mogul has been accused of sexual misconduct by over 80 women since 2017. He has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct. The New York indictment pertains to five counts of sexual misconduct and rape. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, the maximum sentence is life in prison. He has pleaded not guilty and is out on $1 million bail, restricted to going between New York and his home in Connecticut. The trial was originally scheduled to begin on June 3, but was postponed in the Friday hearing to September 9.
This post has been updated.
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