Harvey Weinstein Trial Judge Tells Defense to ‘Leave the Witnesses Alone’ in Public Statements

“It’s going to be hard enough to get a fair and impartial jury,” Judge James Burke says in courtroom

Last Updated: January 6, 2020 @ 1:43 PM

An hour into the first day of Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial in New York City, Judge James Burke weighed in on the contentious issue of the media comments by the former mogul’s defense team.

Though Burke ultimately denied prosecutor Joan Illuzi-Orbon’s request for a gag order to preclude the defense from speaking about the case outside the courtroom, Burke told them to “leave the witnesses alone.”

“Just excise the witnesses from your communications going forward,” Burke said. “It’s going to be hard enough to get a fair and impartial jury. None of this will help that, attain that goal.”

Illuzi-Orbon had asked Burke to preclude Weinstein’s defense team from talking about the case outside the courtroom and referred to comments made by Weinstein’s attorney, Donna Rotunno — without saying her name specifically — that she believed were “degrading, humiliating” to the witnesses, including actress and Weinstein accuser Annabella Sciorra. On Friday, Rotunno told CNN that Sciorra “has spent an entire life acting for a living and I anticipate that she will be an excellent witness on the stand.”

“Quoting from sealed discovery on public TV is not the way this should be tried,” Illuzi-Orbon added.

Burke responded that he had not been keeping up with all of the defense’s media appearances, but turned to Rotunno, who stood up to respond to the assistant district attorney’s accusations.

“[Illuzi] calls my client a predator and then has the nerve to say that I cannot discuss this case,” Rotunno said, denying that she had quoted from sealed discovery. “I have not degraded anyone.”

During the roughly 90-minute opening courtroom session, Burke also rejected the defense team’s request to sequester the jury and postponed ruling on whether the prosecutors could admit seven photographs to show to the jury — a move opposed by the defense team.

The former Hollywood producer, who pleaded not guilty at his first indictment in August, faces five felony counts: two counts of predatory sexual assault, one count of first-degree criminal sexual assault, one count of first-degree rape and one count of third-degree

The first day of the proceedings began at 9:25 a.m. ET. Weinstein, using his walker, entered the packed courtroom around 9:12 a.m. and was surrounded by his attorneys. He remained silent throughout the proceeding but took notes.

Just hours later, Los Angeles County District Attorney filed new criminal charges against Weinstein, accusing him of raping one woman and sexually assaulting another in separate incidents over a two-day period in 2013. Weinstein was indicted on one felony count each of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force and sexual battery by restraint.

Arraignment will be scheduled for a later date, with a recommended bail of $5 million. If convicted, Weinstein faces up to 28 years in California state prison.

Jury selection in the New York case is expected to begin on Tuesday for a trial that could last up to two months.

If convicted of the charges in New York, he faces a mandatory life sentence.

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