By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Four men and three women were chosen on Thursday as jurors in the rape trial of Harvey Weinstein, as the judge cautioned against using the case to make a broader statement about the #MeToo movement.
Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to charges in New York of assaulting two women, and faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault.
Since 2017, more than 80 women, including many famous actresses, have accused him of sexual misconduct dating back decades. Weinstein has denied the allegations, saying any sexual encounters he had were consensual.
The allegations helped fuel the #MeToo movement, in which women have gone public with misconduct allegations against powerful men in business, entertainment and politics.
“This trial is not a referendum on the #MeToo movement,” Justice James Burke told the potential jurors on Thursday. “You must decide this case on the evidence.”
Prosecutors, Weinstein’s lawyers and Burke are striving to select 12 jurors and six alternates before opening statements, which are expected to begin on Jan. 22.
Jurors, all of whom had already passed a round of pre-screening and submitted written questionnaires, were questioned in groups of 20 by the lawyers in the case.
Prosecutors asked whether jurors would be able to convict Weinstein on the basis of witness testimony, without other evidence.
Defense lawyer Damon Cheronis asked one group whether they would consider the cross-examination of a woman who said she was assaulted as “victim-shaming,” and whether they thought it was possible that a woman might “reframe” a consensual sexual encounter as an assault years later.
Most of the questioning drew only nods in response from the potential jurors. After questioning, each side was given an opportunity to strike jurors from the pool.
At one point, while jurors were out of the room, prosecutor Joan Illuzzi accused Weinstein’s lawyers of systematically striking “every white female” from the pool.
Donna Rotunno, one of Weinstein’s lawyers, did not dispute striking the white women, but said there were reasons for each.
“We are here to try to pick a fair jury,” she said. “This is not some conspiracy against the state.”
Burke rejected Illuzzi’s argument and allowed all the strikes to stand.
The seven chosen jurors include a woman who works at a sports venue, a woman who works as a security guard and a man who works in banking.
Weinstein’s trial began on Jan. 6 and is expected to last up to two months.
Weinstein, once one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers, made his mark with critically acclaimed films such as “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love.”
On Wednesday, Weinstein filed a last-minute motion with a New York appellate court to have his trial delayed and moved out of Manhattan, arguing that the “carnival-like atmosphere” surrounding the case made it impossible for him to get a fair trial.
The court denied the request for a delay and will rule on the request to move the trial by next week, according to Arthur Aidala, one of Weinstein’s lawyers.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)