LATEST PAPER
54° Good Morning
54° Good Morning
EntertainmentCelebrities

Harvey Weinstein's pre-trial hearing closed to media by judge

Overruling objections from the press, state Supreme Court Judge James Burke said that the evidence discussed at the hearing consisted almost entirely of "personal and sexual encounters," and he might rule some or all of it inadmissible at trial.

Harvey Weinstein arrives at court in Manhattan for

Harvey Weinstein arrives at court in Manhattan for a pre-trail hearing on Friday.   Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images/DON EMMERT

A Manhattan judge on Friday closed a hearing on whether prosecutors can introduce evidence of uncharged sexual assaults at ex-movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s upcoming sex-crimes trial, ruling that disclosure could make it impossible to pick a fair jury.

Overruling objections from the press, state Supreme Court Judge James Burke said that the evidence discussed at the hearing consisted almost entirely of “personal and sexual encounters,” and he might rule some or all of it inadmissible at trial.

“Closure will prevent a substantial probability that the defendant’s right to a fair trial will be prejudiced,” Burke said.

Robert Balin, a lawyer for a media consortium including Newsday, argued that pervasive publicity about Weinstein for over a year included coverage of allegations of rape, assault and other misconduct by over 80 women, so an open hearing would not cause any additional damage.

He said  the process of selecting prospective jurors could serve its traditional role of weeding out those that were biased, and there was no need to override the constitutional presumption of press and public access to court proceedings.

“There is an effective alternative,” said Balin, who moved after Burke ordered reporters out of the courtroom to try to get an appeals court to intervene on an emergency basis and reverse the closure order.

The prosecution and defense both supported closure of the hearing, and keeping all court filings on the admissibility of alleged uncharged acts secret.

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told Burke that some of the incidents prosecutors want to put into evidence had never been disclosed publicly before, and Weinstein's lawyer complained that social media and the extreme press interest surrounding Weinstein made the case unique.

“Let’s limit the damage that’s been done here in the midst of an insatiable media frenzy,” lawyer Marianne Bertuna said.

After Burke ordered reporters to leave, media lawyers unsuccessfully asked an appeals judge to intervene on an emergency basis. The request was denied, but defense lawyers and prosecutors were ordered to file briefs by Wednesday on the release of materials related to the closed hearing.

Weinstein, 66, is charged with sexual assault for  allegedly coercing a production assistant to engage in oral sex and rape of an unnamed woman. His trial is scheduled for June.

Typically, prosecutors are limited to introducing evidence of the crimes charged, and prohibited from telling jurors about other bad acts to suggest the defendant should be convicted because of a propensity for criminal behavior.

But under limited circumstances — when other bad acts illustrate a unique modus operandi, for example — evidence of  uncharged misbehavior can be admitted. A so-called “Molineux” hearing, named for a New York case in which the issue arose, is held for the judge to consider whether to admit it.

Separately, prosecutors are also seeking to establish what additional evidence they may be allowed to introduce if Weinstein takes the stand, to impeach his credibility. That is called “Sandoval” evidence, for another case.

Burke is considering both overlapping categories of evidence at the hearing. He did not say if he will publicly announce a ruling later Friday.

Comments

We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

Entertainment photos & videos