The judge overseeing Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial ordered the defense not to discuss the case in public anymore until the jury has read out its verdict, after Weinstein’s lead lawyer published an op-ed about the case in Newsweek.
At a hearing on Tuesday before the jury entered the courtroom for legal instructions on its deliberations, prosecutor Joan Illuzzi told New York State Supreme Court Justice James Burke about the Newsweek piece, which she called an attempt to tamper with the jury just before it gets the case.
In the piece, defense attorney Donna Rotunno complained about the news media’s coverage of the trial and called on the jury to disregard it.
“Mr. Weinstein’s jurors have an obligation to themselves and their country to base their verdict solely on the facts, testimony and evidence presented to them in the courtroom,” she wrote. She said, “I implore the members of this jury to do what they know is right and was expected of them from the moment they were called upon to serve their civic duty in a court of law.“
“If this conduct is allowed to persist in this courthouse, then we are all lost,” Illuzzi told the judge. “There is no way the sanctity and purity of a jury trial can ever exist and continue if every party is permitted to go ahead and publicly say what they’re not allowed to say in court.”
Illuzzi asked Burke not only to give jurors an instruction about the piece but also to order that Weinstein be taken into custody immediately.
“There’s no way Ms. Rotunno did this without the prompting, the encouragement, the knowledge and the permission of this defendant,” she said, adding, “It’s akin to jury tampering.”
Burke asked Rotunno, “You don’t think addressing the jury in the first person is problematic?”
Rotunno said that “writing an op-ed about the jury system as a whole does not in any way speak to the jury or violate the court’s order” and that it “doesn’t say anything that my closing argument doesn’t say.”
Burke declined to remand Weinstein but put the defense on notice.
“Defense team, you’re ordered to refrain from speaking to the press until the verdict,” he said sternly. “And I will caution you about the tentacles of your public relations juggernaut.”
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