Harvey Weinstein’s lawyers have demanded his rape trial is moved out of New York City after claiming his case has turned into a “media and entertainment circus”.
The former movie mogul’s legal team say a “carnival-like atmosphere” has taken hold during eight days of jury selection in his case, making it impossible for Weinstein to get a fair trial in his hometown.
Their submission to Manhattan’s appellate court came hours after supermodel Gigi Hadid was cut from the list of potential jurors in Weinstein’s trial.
The 67-year-old is charged with raping a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and sexually assaulting another woman in 2006.
He has pleaded not guilty and has insisted any sexual activity was consensual. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
In a written statement to the appellate court on Thursday, Weinstein’s lawyer Arthur Aidala said: “The deluge of publicity adverse to Mr Weinstein has engulfed the potential jury pool resulting in untoward pressure upon jurors to convict a man demonised and prejudged guilty.”
Weinstein’s legal team acknowledged that coverage of his case extends beyond New York City, but his lawyer John Esposito described it as “the media capital of the world”.
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Prosecutors oppose moving Weinstein’s trial, pointing to the remaining potential jurors who have all pledged they can be fair and impartial.
Moving to a smaller community with a smaller jury pool would only make it more difficult to find jurors, prosecutors added.
Referring to demonstrations taking place near the court, prosecutor Valerie Figuerdo said: “There’s no reason to think the jurors would be impacted by it because New Yorkers see protests all the time.”
The matter will now go to a panel of judges with the aim of having a decision before opening statements in Weinstein’s trial, which could happen as early as next week.
Appellate Justice David Friedman declined a request from Weinstein’s lawyers to halt the trial until the panel’s ruling.
Last week, Weinstein’s lawyers tried and failed to get jury selection halted for a “cooling off” period after Los Angeles prosecutors announced fresh charges against him on the first day of the New York City trial.
His legal team said the California charges, which allege Weinstein sexually assaulted one woman and raped another on back-to-back nights in February 2013, ushered in “a new wave of negative press”.
Weinstein’s lawyers had also asked the judge, Justice James Burke, to step aside for threatening to jail Weinstein for texting in the courtroom, but the request was rejected.
The judge says he expects a panel of 12 jurors and six alternates to be seated in time for opening statements in the trial next Wednesday.
He told prospective jurors that he expected the trial to finish in early March.
Since 2017, more than 80 women, including several famous actresses, have accused Weinstein 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.
But Justice Burke told potential jurors on Thursday: “This trial is not a referendum on the #MeToo movement.
“You must decide this case on the evidence.”