Judge: Key Harvey Weinstein hearing to be held in secret

NEW YORK (AP) — An important pretrial hearing in Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault case could play out in secret if a judge rules against news organizations fighting to keep the courtroom open.

Both the prosecution and defense have asked that Friday's hearing, which will deal with trial strategy and potential witnesses, be held behind closed doors.

After hearing oral arguments, Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice James Burke said he planned to rule later Friday morning.

Prosecutors say they want to protect Weinstein's right to a fair trial and shield the identities of women who've accused the disgraced movie mogul of wrongdoing.

"We believe it is prudent for the court to exercise their discretion and close the court," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said.

Weinstein's lawyers say news coverage could taint the jury pool. Friday's hearing is expected to focus on some of the dozens of women who have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct but whose allegations haven't led to criminal charges.

"The court cannot be complicit with the press in denying the defendant's right to a fair trial," Weinstein lawyer Marianne Bertuna said.

Lawyers for the news organizations, including The Associated Press and The New York Times, argue that the sides haven't met a high legal standard for banning the media and the public.

Related: Harvey Weinstein surrenders on sexual assault charges 

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Harvey Weinstein surrenders on sexual assault charges
Film producer Harvey Weinstein arrives at the 1st Precinct in Manhattan in New York, U.S., May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A police officer is seen in front of the 1st Precinct in Manhattan as film producer Harvey Weinstein is expected to arrive, in New York, U.S., May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 25: Harvey Weinstein departs New York Police Department's First Precinct in handcuffs on May 25, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jackson Lee/GC Images)
Film producer Harvey Weinstein, surrenders on sexual assault charges to the New York City Police Department (NYPD) in New York City, U.S., May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky
Film producer Harvey Weinstein arrives at the 1st Precinct in Manhattan in New York, U.S., May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Film producer Harvey Weinstein arrives at the 1st Precinct in Manhattan in New York, U.S., May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 25: Harvey Weinstein turns himself in to the New York Police Department's First Precinct after be served with criminal charges by the Manhattan District Attorney's office on May 25, 2018 in New York City. The former movie producer faces charges in connection with accusations made by aspiring actress Lucia Evans who has said that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him in his Manhattan office in 2004. Weinstein (66) has been accused by dozens of other women of forcing them into sexual acts using both pressure and threats. The revelations of the his behavior helped to spawn the global #MeToo movement. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 25: Harvey Weinstein leaves a New York criminal court after posting bail following his arrest this morning on charges of rape, committing a criminal sex act, sexual abuse and sexual misconduct on May 25, 2018 in New York City. Weinstein's bond was set at $10 million and he will be required to wear a GPS monitoring system. The former movie producer faces charges in connection with accusations made by aspiring actress Lucia Evans who has said that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him in his Manhattan office in 2004. Weinstein (66) has been accused by dozens of other women of forcing them into sexual acts using both pressure and threats. The revelations of the his behavior helped to spawn the global #MeToo movement. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 25: Harvey Weinstein turns himself in to the New York Police Department's First Precinct after be served with criminal charges by the Manhattan District Attorney's office on May 25, 2018 in New York City. The former movie producer faces charges in connection with accusations made by aspiring actress Lucia Evans who has said that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him in his Manhattan office in 2004. Weinstein (66) has been accused by dozens of other women of forcing them into sexual acts using both pressure and threats. The revelations of the his behavior helped to spawn the global #MeToo movement. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 25: Harvey Weinstein along with his attorney Benjamin Brafman (L) appears at his arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court on Friday, May 25, 2018. The former movie producer faces charges in connection with accusations made by aspiring actress Lucia Evans who has said that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him in his Manhattan office in 2004. Weinstein (66) has been accused by dozens of other women of forcing them into sexual acts using both pressure and threats. The revelations of the his behavior helped to spawn the global #MeToo movement. (Photo by Steven Hirsch-Pool via Getty Images)
Police officers and members of the media stand in front of the 1st Precinct in Manhattan as film producer Harvey Weinstein is expected to arrive, in New York, U.S., May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Members of the media stand next to the 1st Precinct in Manhattan as film producer Harvey Weinstein is expected to arrive, in New York, U.S., May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 25: Harvey Weinstein departs New York Police Department's First Precinct in handcuffs on May 25, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jackson Lee/GC Images)
Harvey Weinstein leaves the Manhattan Criminal Court on May 25, 2018 in New York. - Weinstein was arrested and charged Friday with rape and other sex crimes involving two separate women, New York police announced shortly after the fallen Hollywood mogul surrendered to authorities. (Photo by KENA BETANCUR / AFP) (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
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Weinstein's case is "a matter of immense and legitimate public interest," and the allegations against him are already widely known, said Robert Balin, a lawyer representing the news organizations.

The sides asking for the courtroom to be closed are suggesting that "somehow it is improper for the press and the public to be sitting here and report news in real time," even though that right is guaranteed by the Constitution, Balin argued.

A lawyer for Court TV and a reporter from New York magazine also argued in favor of keeping the courtroom open.

The media lawyers asked that if Burke decides to keep the courtroom closed, Weinstein's pretrial hearing be delayed a week so that they may appeal.

Weinstein himself was mum as he arrived at court. Asked how he was doing, he just nodded.

Weinstein, 67, is charged with raping an unidentified female acquaintance in his Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006.

Weinstein has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex. He pleaded not guilty and is free on $1 million bail. His trial is scheduled to begin June 3.

Friday's hearing will focus on a prosecution request to have some of his dozens of other accusers testify. Prosecutors want to show that Weinstein has had a history of violating women.

Suburban Philadelphia prosecutors used that strategy last year in convicting actor and comedian Bill Cosby at his sexual assault retrial.

Perhaps anticipating an onslaught of accusers taking the witness stand, Weinstein lawyer Jose Baez sent a letter this week to the lawyer for one of them, asking for emails he says show the woman acknowledged she had a consensual relationship with Weinstein.

Balin argued in a court filing his week that holding the hearing behind closed doors would do nothing to safeguard Weinstein's right to a fair trial because allegations against him from more than 80 women have already been widely reported.

Many of those women, such as actresses Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd, have agreed to be identified publicly.

"Clearly, there is no rational basis — let alone 'compelling circumstances' — that could justify the Parties' effort to suppress this information now that it is in the public domain as a result of intensive news reporting," Balin wrote in the filing.

Balin called closing the courtroom an "extreme remedy" and argued that as much as possible the hearing should be held in open court.

The news organizations are also requesting that documents filed under seal in the case be made public and that all future filings, even ones made under seal, be listed on the case docket so that "the public and press receive prompt notice that such materials exist."

The Associated Press does not identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly.

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Follow Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak

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