New York|Several Women May Testify Against Weinstein. But a Judge Is Keeping the List of Who Secret.
A judge on Friday banned the public from a hearing to decide if he will allow testimony about uncharged crimes at the movie producer’s sexual-assault trial.
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One of the primary questions hovering over the coming sexual assault trial of Harvey Weinstein is whether the court will let other women testify about their experiences with the movie producer besides the two mentioned in an indictment.
But a state judge in Manhattan ruled on Friday that hearings to determine what evidence of uncharged crimes might be allowed at trial would take place in a sealed courtroom with the public and the press excluded.
The ruling by Justice James Burke in State Supreme Court meant the list of other witnesses prosecutors want to call to testify against Mr. Weinstein — and what they might say — will remain secret a little longer, perhaps until his trial starts on June 3.
Both the prosecution and the defense had asked for the hearing to be held behind closed doors, arguing that publicizing it could make it harder to find an impartial jury. Justice Burke agreed with them, ruling this month that closing the courtroom was “the only means available to avoid tainting the jury pool.”
Still, before the hearing started on Friday, a lawyer for several news organizations, including The New York Times, argued that access to judicial proceedings and records is protected by the First Amendment. He urged Judge Burke to unseal all court filings in the case and make the hearings public.
Justice Burke quickly turned down the request. He noted what he called Mr. Weinstein’s “celebrity status” and said that the level of continued attention could jeopardize Mr. Weinstein’s right to a fair trial.
“The publication of the information at this time would serve no purpose other than to arouse public sentiment against the defendant,” he said, before ordering the courtroom cleared.
Robert D. Balin said that he would immediately turn to an appeals court to ask for a stay.
The indictment against Mr. Weinstein, 67, charges him with raping one woman at a Manhattan hotel in 2013 and forcing another to let him perform oral sex on her at his townhouse in 2006.
Mr. Weinstein, who pleaded not guilty and was released on $1 million bail, has denied the charges, saying the encounters were consensual.
Dozens of other women have said publicly that they, too, experienced highly inappropriate behavior at his hands, ranging from sexual harassment to rape.
The Manhattan district attorney’s has sought permission to put some of those other accusers on the witness stand to establish a pattern of behavior. Prosecutors in Pennsylvania employed the same tactic in convicting Bill Cosby last year on three counts of sexual assault.
Mr. Weinstein, who became a powerful figures in Hollywood while running Miramax, has been the subject of intensive reporting since 2017, when stories in The New Yorker and The New York Times detailed allegations of his sexual misconduct against multiple women, and reported that he had paid off several accusers.
The lead prosecutor, Joan Illuzzi, argued in a letter to the court that the hearings should be secret not just to avoid publicizing more allegations that might prejudice potential jurors, but to protect the privacy of witnesses who have been victims of sexual assault.
“Not every person we have listed that we are asking to call has been made public,” she told the judge on Friday.
Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., a lawyer for Mr. Weinstein, wrote in a court filing that a “sensationalized media environment” justified excluding the press and public from the hearing.
In court on Friday, another lawyer for Mr. Weinstein, Marianne Bertuna, said that news coverage of the case had already harmed her client. “Let’s limit the damage that has been done here in the midst of an insatiable media frenzy,” she said
But Mr. Balin countered that there was a significant and legitimate public interest in the hearings and that the prosecution and defense had not met the high legal burden to justify sweeping restrictions.
“What I’ve heard is that somehow it is improper for the press and public to sit here and report news in real time,” he told Judge Burke. “That is what our constitution envisions.”
Mr. Balin argued in an earlier court filing that most of the information that was to be discussed during the hearing had was already public, thanks to thorough reporting. He also questioned the assertion that news reports about the hearings would harm Mr. Weinstein. The jury pool had already been exposed to highly-publicized allegations in the press and on social media from more than 80 women, he noted.
Mr. Weinstein was indicted in 2018 on six criminal charges including two counts of predatory sexual assault, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Judge Burke dismissed one of those charges last fall after prosecutors acknowledged that the lead detective in the case had failed to tell them about a witness who cast doubt on one of Mr. Weinstein’s accusers.
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