NEW YORK — Several prospective jurors in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial were dismissed early in the first week after saying they could not be impartial in the case. For one possible juror, the case hit closer to home.
"I have a close friend who had an encounter with the defendant in his hotel room,” she said this week when asked by Judge James Burke if she could be a fair and impartial juror in the case. The juror did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
Weinstein’s lawyer Arthur Aidala on Friday used the possible juror's remark, prospective jurors' comments in the courtroom, and information unearthed from their social media posts in a bid to keep the jury selection process secret.
In a letter filed in court Friday, Aidala requested that prospective jurors be questioned by attorneys individually and away from one another, instead of in an open court. He also requested that the 32 prospective jurors who had heard the comment be dismissed.
In his letter, Aidala wrote that he was concerned “stray comments” from jurors would influence the entire jury pool, biasing them against his client.
Burke denied the request for a sequestered jury selection, clarifying that jurors frequently “blurted out comments that were less than desirable” but that ultimately “each juror was an island unto themselves.”
The defense attorney’s latest letter offered a glimpse into the way Weinstein’s legal team is researching potential jurors and dredging up social media posts to check for bias against its client.
In his letter, Adala claimed some prospective jurors have been “less than honest” with the court about their motivations, including one who tweeted about using the trial as a way to promote his new novel.
“If anyone knows how a person might hypothetically leverage serving on the jury of a high-profile case to promote their new novel [REDACTED], which [REDACTED] called a 'darkly funny book' and a 'witty black comedy,' dm me, please,” the tweet included in Aidala’s letter read. The tweet has since been deleted.
The prospective juror who tweeted this also liked a reply, which read, “I don’t know if this counts as jury-tampering but he’s guilty.”
The letter also included screenshots from a prospective juror’s Facebook page, on which they shared a picture outside Manhattan Supreme Court with the caption “Jury duty all day yesterday."
Aidala’s letter pointed out that the prospective juror posted a laughing emoji under a comment with the question “Did you get paneled for Weinstein?”
Yet another juror, Aidala’s letter said, was working on a book scheduled for 2020 about women who “negotiate fraught friendships, sexuality, class, and predatory older men.” The latter description, Aidala wrote, is the very accusation made against Weinstein.
“This is an unusual case, being tried under unusual circumstances, with an unusual amount of media attention, to which nearly every juror has been exposed,” Aidala wrote. “Jury selection in this case requires additional procedures to protect Mr. Weinstein’s right to a fair and impartial jury.”
In denying Aidala's request for a sequestered jury, Burke said: “Denied. I disagree. I don’t need to read an eight-page document if that’s what you’re asking for."
He later added that he would reserve his decision about the rest of Aidala's request after reading the motion in its entirety.