Weinstein’s Lawyer Aims Op-Ed at Jury and Gets Stern Warning
The judge overseeing Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial ordered the defense not to talk about the case in public until it’s over after Weinstein’s lead lawyer published an op-ed in Newsweek that indirectly addressed the jury.
At a hearing on Tuesday, prosecutor Joan Illuzzi told New York State Supreme Court Justice James Burke about the Newsweek piece, which she called an attempt to tamper with the jury. In the column, published Sunday, defense attorney Donna Rotunno complained about the news media’s coverage of the trial and called on the jury to disregard it.
“Mr. Weinstein’s jurors have an obligation to themselves and their country to base their verdict solely on the facts, testimony and evidence presented to them in the courtroom,” Rotunno wrote.
“I implore the members of this jury to do what they know is right and was expected of them from the moment they were called upon to serve their civic duty in a court of law,” she wrote.
“If this conduct is allowed to persist in this courthouse, then we are all lost,” Illuzzi told the judge. “There is no way the sanctity and purity of a jury trial can ever exist and continue if every party is permitted to go ahead and publicly say what they’re not allowed to say in court.”
Illuzzi asked Burke not only to give jurors an instruction about the column but also to order that Weinstein be taken into custody immediately.
“There’s no way Ms. Rotunno did this without the prompting, the encouragement, the knowledge and the permission of this defendant,” she said, adding, “It’s akin to jury tampering.”
Burke asked Rotunno, “You don’t think addressing the jury in the first person is problematic?”
Rotunno said that “writing an op-ed about the jury system as a whole does not in any way speak to the jury or violate the court’s order” and that it “doesn’t say anything that my closing argument doesn’t say.”
Burke declined to remand Weinstein but put the defense on notice.
“Defense team, you’re ordered to refrain from speaking to the press until the verdict,” he said sternly. “And I will caution you about the tentacles of your public relations juggernaut.”
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Earlier, Burke denied a request by the defense to eject one of the jurors, an author whom Weinstein’s lawyers had initially tried to exclude because she had written a novel about young women in New York involved in relationships with older men.
Weinstein’s lawyer Damon Cheronis on Tuesday argued for her removal because she had reviewed a book about child abuse. She was questioned and said she was assigned to review the book but hadn’t yet read it because of her role in the trial. Illuzzi argued that the defense was trying to do an “end run” around the settled jury selection process after failing to remove the juror from the panel the first time.
After Burke denied the defense’s bid to eject her, the juror could be seen shaking her head, seemingly in anger at the request.
Shortly before noon in New York, Burke gave the jury of seven men and five women its instructions and sent it out to begin its deliberations. He told the three alternate jurors to remain on standby in case they’re needed, saying, “You’re not out of it yet.”
“Remember, you are still sworn jurors on this case,” Burke told the alternates. “So if anybody does approach you, you’re not permitted to speak to them.”
The case is People v. Weinstein, 450293/2018, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).
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— With assistance by Olivia Raimonde, and Olivia Rockeman
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