Weinstein Judge Won’t Recuse Over Warning on Courtroom Texts

MANHATTAN (CN) — The judge overseeing Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial denied Thursday that his recent terse admonishment of the producer requires him to step aside from the long-delayed prosecution.

Judge James Burke announced his decision from the bench Thursday morning in Manhattan Supreme Court, a day after Weinstein’s lawyers sent him a letter asking that he remove himself from the case. They objected to comments Burke made Tuesday when he threatened to jail Weinstein for ignoring a court order barring in-court texting.

“You may want to invoke your right to counsel and silence right now,” Justice Burke scolded the Weinstein at the onset of a pretrial hearing Tuesday. “That means don’t say anything,” the incensed judge added.

Harvey Weinstein arrives at a Manhattan courthouse for jury selection in his sexual assault trial on Thursday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Addressing the 67-year old disgraced movie mogul directly, Burke asked, “Mr. Weinstein, I could not implore you more to not answer the following question: Is this really the way you want to end up in jail for the rest of your life?”

In their motion to have Burke recused and a new judge reassigned, Weinstein’s lawyers said the judge’s comments Tuesday were “prejudicial and inflammatory” and conveyed animus toward Weinstein.

“Faced with extreme and unfairly prejudicial negative publicity both pre-trial and now during jury selection, this court has refused the defendant’s requests for additional procedural safeguards,” Weinstein’s attorney Arthur Aidala wrote.

Denying the motion on Thursday morning, Burke said there was nothing improper about “scolding a recalcitrant defendant” over violating an order to not use his cellphone in court.

“I never meant that I was going to put your client in jail for life,” he told defense attorneys.

The defense had further argued that Burke failed to adequately safeguard Weinstein’s right to a fair and impartial jury, in part by rejecting a request Tuesday to halt jury selection for a “cooling-off” period after Los Angeles prosecutors filed new sex-crimes charges against him Monday. 

“There is no time like the present,” Burke said Thursday. “All sides are ready.”

Burke’s courtroom rules bar cellphone use entirely; reporters may use laptops quietly but are not allowed to tweet or email from the courtroom.

Weinstein faces a life sentence if convicted on five felony charges, including two counts of predatory sexual assault, two counts of criminal sexual act in the first degree, rape in the first degree, and rape in the third degree.

Weinstein is charged in New York with raping a woman, the identity of whom is not public, in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and sexually assaulting another woman, Mimi Haleyi, in 2006.

He has pleaded not guilty and denied any nonconsensual sexual activity.

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