MANHATTAN (CN) – New rape charges against Harvey Weinstein in California are “next to meaningless” in his Manhattan criminal trial, a judge with the latter court ruled Tuesday, moving the long-delayed case into its next stage, jury selection.
The ruling came a day after Los Angeles prosecutors unsealed an indictment alleging that the 67-year-old Hollywood producer raped an unnamed woman on Feb. 18, 2013, after she returned to her LA hotel room following a film festival and then sexually assaulted another unnamed woman the following night in a separate incident in his hotel suite in Beverly Hills.
At a hearing Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court, Weinstein’s defense counsel argued that extensive and biased media coverage of the new charges would make it impossible to find an impartial jury.
“For a prosecutor, this is Christmas morning, the morning of jury selection to have him smeared everywhere,” Weinstein’s attorney Arthur Aidala said Tuesday, describing the news coverage of new sex-crime charges brought yesterday by Los Angeles district attorney on the same day that Weinstein’s Manhattan trial finally got underway.
“How much better could it get?” the exasperated defense attorney asked.
Aidala held up copies of the New York Daily News, New York Post and New York Times newspapers, along with what he described to be 350 pages of “what’s on the internet,” to illustrate the extent to which the trial “the talk of the town right this moment.”
Losing his voice throughout the hearing, Aidala urged the judge to delay the trial as “some kind of cool-out period.”
Meanwhile, New York prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Osborne sought to have Weinstein’s bail revoked in light of the charges.
“There is a grave risk that this defendant will realize at some point that the evidence is overwhelming,” she said, asking for Weinstein’s remand.
Unpersuaded by either side’s requests to change the trial conditions, Manhattan Supreme Judge James Burke denied both parties’ request, remarking that the late-arriving charges from the LA district attorney were “next to meaningless” in the Manhattan criminal trial.
“Anybody can be sued, anybody can be arrested, anybody can be taken to court and presumed innocent,” Judge Burke said Tuesday morning.
Delaying the trial because of the Los Angeles charges would be like “trying to unring a bell that really has no resonance,” Burke concluded before emptying the courtroom out to bring in 120 prospective jurors for the initial prescreening portion of jury selection.
Weinstein’s trial is expected to last six to eight weeks.
While more than 80 women, including A-list actresses Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct since The New York Times detailed allegations against him in October 2017, the New York criminal charges are related to just two women.
Former production assistant Mimi Haleyi alleges that Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her in his New York apartment in July 2006. The second alleged victim in the New York trial remains anonymous; she alleges that Weinstein raped her in a New York hotel room in March 2013.
The Manhattan district attorney’s indictment was amended in August to include testimony from “The Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra to show that Weinstein engaged in a pattern of predatory sexual behavior.
Weinstein has pleaded not guilty and says any sexual activity was consensual. If he’s convicted of the most serious charges against him, two counts of predatory sexual assault, he faces a mandatory life sentence.
In August last year, Weinstein’s attorneys filed an appeal seeking to have the trial moved from Manhattan to Albany or to Suffolk County on Eastern Long Island because of what they argued to be biased media coverage concentrated in New York City.
“The media will lay siege to the courthouse much like a fan base supports the home team,” said Aidala, a former Fox News legal analyst, in his August appeal. “After all, for the media, New York City gives them a home court advantage. So, too, will the celebrities and the activists take advantage of the location in downtown Manhattan to show their support for the complainants.”
A New York appeals court denied Weinstein’s motion to change venue ahead the trial “in its entirety” in October.
The presiding judge expects jury selection to last nearly two weeks, with opening arguments anticipated just after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.