The first day of jury selection in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial wound to a close on Tuesday afternoon, following a dramatic morning as the judge threatened to revoke his bail and jail the former film producer for using a cellphone in court.
Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting two women in New York. He faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault. Weinstein has denied the allegations, saying any sexual encounters he had were consensual.
Judge James Burke spoke to 120 potential jurors in the courtroom about the importance of jury service and telling them the identity of the defendant.
Prosecutors have said they may call three women to testify about encounters with Weinstein, even though he is not formally charged with crimes against them. Their testimony is intended to bolster the charges by showing that Weinstein had a consistent pattern of behavior.
Burke read to jurors a list of dozens of names that might come up at the trial, including actresses Salma Hayek and Charlize Theron, who have accused Weinstein of misconduct.
He also mentioned actress Alyssa Milano. Days after reports of Weinstein’s alleged misconduct was first reported in October 2017, Milano wrote on Twitter: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
That message propelled the #MeToo movement, which prompted women to lodge misconduct allegations against powerful men in politics and business.
Burke did not say if the people he mentioned would be called as witnesses.
The once-powerful producer has been released on bail, but is required to wear an electronic-tracking device that was visible on his ankle when he arrived at court on Tuesday. He was seen entering and leaving court using a walker.
Forty potential jurors were excused after saying they could not be impartial, and a small number said their health prevented them from serving.
Those who said they believed serving on the jury would be a hardship were called one by one to speak with the judge and lawyers privately.
The remaining jurors were told to take a written questionnaire and return on January 16 for further selection if they believed they were able to serve.
Jurors were also asked if they had read about the case or Weinstein, if they or a family member was ever a victim of sexual abuse or if they or a family member ever worked in the entertainment business.
A spokesperson for the Office of Court Administration Lucian Chalfen said the 2 000 jurors summoned for the Weinstein case is roughly five times the number for a typical trial. Based on past experience, about 500 were likely to show up for jury duty.
Prosecutors need all 12 jurors to back a conviction, while Weinstein needs just one holdout for a hung jury.