Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial begins on heels of new charges


NEW YORK (AP) – The judge at Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial ordered jury selection to begin as scheduled Tuesday, rejecting a defense request for a “cooling-off period” after prosecutors in Los Angeles brought new charges against him.

Judge James Burke denied a request for the delay after Weinstein’s lawyers questioned the timing of the new charges, which were filed Monday. If anyone believes it was coincidence, his attorney Donna Rotunno said, “I’d like to sell them the Brooklyn Bridge.”

“For a prosecutor, this is Christmas morning – the morning of jury selection to have him smeared everywhere,” said another of his lawyers, Arthur Aidala, who asked for the delay in jury selection.

The judge also denied a request from prosecutors to revoke Weinstein’s bail and jail him until the trial is over, saying the new case against him in Los Angeles increased his incentive to flee.

“There is a grave risk that this defendant will realize at some point that the evidence is overwhelming,” said Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi.

But while turning prosecutors down, Burke did threaten to jail Weinstein for using his cell phone in the courtroom in violation of court rules.

“Mr. Weinstein, is this really the way you want to end up in jail … by texting and violating a court order?” Burke said, cutting off Weinstein before he could answer.

Weinstein, who recently underwent back surgery and hobbled into court using a walker, is charged in New York with raping a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing a sex act on another woman in the city in 2006. The 67-year-old former movie titan has said any sexual activity was consensual.

Scores of potential jurors were summoned for a selection process that could take weeks, given the heavy publicity surrounding the case and the way Weinstein has been cast as the chief villain of the #MeToo movement.

Once one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers, Weinstein has now been accused of sexual assault, harassment and misconduct by dozens of women, from famous actresses to assistants at his former company. The allegations began surfacing publicly in October 2017 and sparked the #MeToo movement, as well as investigations in multiple places.

Los Angeles prosecutors charged Weinstein Monday with sexually assaulting two women there on successive nights during Oscar week in 2013.

Lawyers for Weinstein had no immediate comment on the new charges, though he has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey said the timing of the charges was unrelated to the New York trial. She said the case took more than two years to build because the women were reluctant to provide all the information necessary, and the filing happened on the first business day when all the necessary people could gather.

There is some connection between the cases, though: One of the Los Angeles accusers is expected to testify in the New York case to help prosecutors establish what they say was Weinstein’s pattern of forcing himself on young actresses and women trying to break into Hollywood.

Weinstein is expected to appear in court in California after his New York trial, Lacey said.

Harvey Weinstein arrives to court for the start of jury selection in his sexual assault trial Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)