New York|Harvey Weinstein Threatened With Jail for Using Phone Again in Court
A New York judge threatened to throw Harvey Weinstein in jail on Tuesday after he was caught using two cellphones in the courtroom despite previous warnings to put the devices away.
The sharp rebuke came on the first day of jury selection in Mr. Weinstein’s rape trial in Manhattan, when it became clear how hard it would be to find an impartial jury. A third of the 120 potential jurors in court on Tuesday asked to be excused, saying they could not be fair. The people who told the judge they had their minds made up about Mr. Weinstein varied in age and ethnicity. Twenty-four were women.
Before the potential jurors were vetted, Justice James M. Burke had issued the warning to Mr. Weinstein, the disgraced movie producer, who spent several minutes ahead of the proceedings tapping on the screen of his phone and at one point held two cellphones. Court officers had apparently reported the behavior to the judge, who took the bench and immediately addressed the matter.
“What did I say would happen if he so much has a cellphone or electronic device since there have been repeated violations of this, including some on the record?” Justice Burke said firmly.
One of Mr. Weinstein’s lawyers, Arthur Aidala, had minutes earlier entered the courtroom, Part 99 of the State Supreme Court, and appeared taken aback: “You said you never want to see a cellphone in my client’s hand.”
“Because it was my intention to do what?” the judge snapped back.
“To change his bail conditions,” Mr. Aidala responded.
“To what?” Justice Burke said.
“I believe you said remand,” Mr. Aidala said, meaning to place Mr. Weinstein in jail.
Mr. Weinstein, who had entered the courtroom, aided by a walker, minutes before, shook his head and seemed worried about what might happen next.
The judge cautioned Mr. Weinstein not to say anything else and asked, “Is this really how you want to end up in jail for the rest of your life, by texting and violating a court order?”
After the tirade, prosecutors asked for Mr. Weinstein to be remanded given new rape and sexual assault charges that were filed in Los Angeles on Monday. The judge kept the bail conditions, but issued a stern warning about Mr. Weinstein’s cellphone use.
The trial of Mr. Weinstein, 67, is one of the most anticipated proceedings in recent years. Allegations against him prompted the global #MeToo movement, a reckoning over sexual assault by powerful and influential men in the workplace.
Twelve jurors and six alternates will ultimately decide Mr. Weinstein’s fate.
On Tuesday, the potential jurors who said they could be fair to Mr. Weinstein were asked to complete a 16-page questionnaire, which asked, among other things, if they had heard about the case in newspapers, on the internet, on the radio or on television, and if that information would affect their ability to be fair and impartial.
The people were also asked if they or someone they know had ever been the victim of physical or sexual assault, either as a child or a victim.
By the afternoon, 30 potential jurors were expected to return next week for further review.
Opening arguments in the case are expected to start on Jan. 22, with the trial concluding by March 6.
Prosecutors in New York charge that Mr. Weinstein raped one woman, who has not been identified in court documents, at a Midtown hotel in March 2013 and forced a second woman, Mimi Haleyi, a production assistant, to allow him to perform oral sex on her at his apartment in Manhattan in 2006.
The producer also faces a charge of predatory sexual assault for having committed a serious sex crime against more than one person.
To further buttress that charge, prosecutors plan on calling the actress Annabella Sciorra to testify against Mr. Weinstein, who she said sexually assaulted her in 1993 in her Gramercy Park apartment. If convicted of predatory sexual assault, Mr. Weinstein faces a maximum of life in prison.
Mr. Weinstein maintains that his sexual encounters with the women were consensual.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office is also expected to call on three other women to testify about allegations of sexual assault by the producer.
Prosecutors hope those witnesses will convince a jury that Mr. Weinstein has long been a sexual predator, even if the events they describe happened too long ago to be prosecuted as sex crimes. Prosecutors in Pennsylvania used a similar strategy in the sexual assault trial of the comedian Bill Cosby, who is now in prison.