Harvey Weinstein's Lawyers Want Jury Selection Done In Private

Jan 16, 2020
Originally published on January 16, 2020 8:34 am
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The rape and sexual abuse trial of Harvey Weinstein moves into the jury selection phase today. Weinstein faces five charges involving two women in New York. Published accusations against him helped set off the #MeToo movement even before he was arrested in 2018. And there has been plenty of publicity since, which makes picking jurors in this trial complicated at best. NPR's Rose Friedman has the story.

ROSE FRIEDMAN, BYLINE: Harvey Weinstein's legal team has asked that jury selection take place in private. They argue that's both to protect jurors' personal information and to avoid tainting the jury pool. They say potential jurors have revealed facts about Weinstein, the case and information they've read about it. It's emotion both the media and the prosecutor oppose. Over the last week and a half, hundreds of potential jurors have filed into Judge James Burke's Manhattan courtroom.

One man told the court he lived near the Tribeca Film Center and had witnessed Weinstein screaming at someone on the phone several times. Another said she had a close friend who'd had an encounter with him in a hotel room. Multiple people said they'd read "Catch And Kill," the book by New Yorker journalist Ronan Farrow who's been investigating allegations of rape and sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein for the last few years.

Roy Futterman is a well-known jury consultant. He says, in the first phase, all the court needed to know was whether people could be impartial.

ROY FUTTERMAN: There's a lot of people who they expected, and rightly so, would state that they could not be fair and impartial. They already had opinions on it. So they've moved a lot of people through this process in order to get a core group which they can then move on to further questioning.

FRIEDMAN: Futterman says now the lawyers will look at whether each juror would be good for a particular side.

FUTTERMAN: The attorneys will interview jurors, and for one reason or another, will say, this is a person that I don't think is favorable for my case. And I'm going to use one of my limited peremptory challenges to get rid of that person. Both sides are striking sort of the extremes. And where you hopefully end up through the adversarial system is sort of a moderate core group of people who can be fair and impartial and sit and listen to this particular case.

FRIEDMAN: Weinstein and his defense team have already faced a few setbacks during the prescreening period. A motion they filed asking the judge to recuse himself from the case was denied. The judge also reprimanded Weinstein for repeatedly using a cellphone in court. But Weinstein's attorney, Donna Rotunno, says she's confident about what comes next.

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DONNA ROTUNNO: I have to believe that once jurors actually are seated as jurors, they want to get it right. And I have confidence in the evidence that we will present, that even if people, you know, may be on the fence or unsure in their own minds, that once they hear what we have to say, that we can convince them.

FRIEDMAN: Opening arguments are expected to begin next Wednesday. The trial itself is expected to last six to eight weeks. Rose Friedman, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.