Harvey Weinstein’s New York trial just got underway, but it’s already proving hard to find potential jurors who don’t think they movie mogul’s guilty. Thanks to wall-to-wall media coverage, most people have heard about the dozens of women who have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct or assault. That’s making it difficult to find a bench of 12 jurors and six alternates willing to enter the trial with a presumption of innocence.
On Tuesday, 43 out of roughly 120 potential jurors said they were not able to be fair or impartial. Weinstein is facing life in prison over criminal charges that he raped woman in a New York hotel room in 2013, and forcibly performed oral sex on another woman in his Manhattan apartment in 2006. That’s not his only legal issue. Los Angeles prosecutors charged Weinstein on Monday with raping one woman and sexually assaulting another in 2013.
In the courtroom, Justice James Burke acknowledged that Weinstein’s notoriety made it unlikely that potential jurors were ignorant of the claims against the producer.
“This case has picked up a bit of press coverage so there might not be many of you who have not heard of the name Harvey Weinstein,” he said, adding, “I must tell you that having heard of [Weinstein] and even being familiar with the allegations against him… are not by themselves disqualifying and does not mean that you are not permitted to sit as a juror in this case. That alone does not necessarily disqualify you, so long as you keep in mind that the jurors in this case will be deciding the case based on what they hear inside the courtroom regardless of what the press or anyone else has said about the case outside the courtroom.”
That was still a bridge too far for many would-be jurors. One admitted that without hearing any evidence, she would find Weinstein guilty. Another offered up, “I already heard a lot of the news.” Others simply stated crisply that they couldn’t be impartial.
Burke said the trial is expected to last between six to eight weeks and should conclude on March 6. He acknowledged that serving “is quite likely a significant inconvenience.” Many potential jurors rolled their eyes and shook their heads when told about the two months they would have to serve if selected.
Burke also told potential jurors that they could not read any news reports about the case, must report any interactions with members of the press, and must not communicate about the case on social media, phone or email.
Thirty six of the 120 potential jurors who were in today’s proceedings were given questionnaires to fill out.
Weinstein entered the courtroom clutching a walker and dressed in a gray suit. He was carrying a book, “The Brothers Mankiewicz: Hope, Heartbreak, and Hollywood Classics.” It’s a dual portrait of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the writer of “Citizen Kane,” and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the writer and director of “All About Eve.”
Mackenzie Nichols contributed to this report.
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