A Manhattan judge threw reporters and members of the public out of Harvey Weinstein’s Friday pretrial hearing, where lawyers were expected to discuss evidence, including allegations of sexual misconduct.
The AP, one of the organizations blocked from the courtroom, reports that Manhattan Supreme Court justice James Burke denied the press access to the hearing because the information might be “highly inflammatory” and might taint the jury pool. Closing the courtroom “will prevent a substantial possibility that a defendant’s right to a fair trial will be prejudiced,” Burke concluded.
“This court has considered the celebrity status of the defendant has generated intense media scrutiny and an enormous amount of pretrial publicity,” he said. “Clearly, the publication of this information at this time would serve no purpose other than to arouse negative public sentiment toward the defendant.”
Burke also rejected appeals from press organizations, which argued that the public’s right to know trumped concerns over privacy or the jury selection. The case is “a matter of immense and legitimate public interest,” said Robert Balin, a lawyer representing the media outlets, noting that Weinstein’s alleged “prior bad acts or uncharged crimes are already matters of public record.”
Both Joan Illuzzi, the main prosecutor on Weinstein’s case, and Marianne Bertuna, one of Weinstein’s lawyers, argued for a courtroom closed to the press and the public.
“We do know however that the media has every intention of releasing the information in real time before the court even renders a position,” said Bertuna, “We believe the information will be sent out to the public in real time over Twitter.”
Dozens of women have accused Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment. He has been indicted on two counts of predatory sexual assault, one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree and one count each of first-degree rape and third-degree rape, potentially facing a life sentence. His trial starts June 3.