Justice James Burke has denied the defense’s request that he recuse himself from overseeing Harvey Weinstein’s trial because of his comments about the ex-mogul’s courtroom cellphone use.
“Let me first just state the obvious: There’s nothing prejudicial or inflammatory for scolding a recalcitrant defendant” for violating a court order multiple times, Burke said on Thursday, after deliberating for over 10 minutes. “All I meant to do was scare him enough for him to discontinue using his phone. The court does not know the verdict, the court has not made a call on what it might or might not be.”
“I do not in fact harbor an opinion on the case and I certainly don’t know what the evidence is likely to be or perhaps likely to be received by the jury,” he added.
The judge also said that on at least three prior occasions, Weinstein had been using his cellphone in court and was “defiant and challenging to court officers when asked to put away his phones,” Burke said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the defense had filed a motion accusing Burke of “bias” or an “appearance of bias” for his “inflammatory” comments about Weinstein’s phone use. Before Burke made his ruling, the defense reiterated its request for the recusal.
“The mere appearance of impropriety, in terms of the court’s comments, do lend to a request for a recusal, your Honor, and we ask that you grant one,” Weinstein’s attorney, Donna Rotunno, said.
The prosecution objected to it.
“The fact that you had chastised the defendant for not using his cell phone in the past and you, unfortunately, had a reason to do it again,” assistant district attorney Joan Illuzzi said, “is nothing that makes you … impartial in this case.”