NEW YORK — Lawyers for Harvey Weinstein are seeking to get the fallen movie mogul’s upcoming sex-crimes trial moved out of New York City, saying he can’t get a fair trial there due to overwhelming pretrial publicity.
In a long-shot motion filed with the New York State appellate court on Friday, defense attorney Arthur Aidala suggested the trial be moved to upstate Albany County or Suffolk County on Long Island.
It is not clear whether pretrial publicity about Weinstein will be less intense in either of those places given that his case has been global news for nearly two years.
The defense motion cited the enormous media coverage and circus-like atmosphere surrounding Weinstein’s past court appearances in Manhattan, even noting that Weinstein’s name was mentioned online on the New York Post’s gossip column Page Six more than 11,000 times.
“It is safe to say that New York City is the least likely place on earth where Mr. Weinstein could receive a fair trial, where jurors could hear evidence, deliberate, and render a verdict in an atmosphere free of intimidation from pressure to deliver a result that the politicians, the activists, the celebrities and the media demand,” Aidala wrote.
The court papers also argued that Manhattan is the epicenter of the global #MeToo movement, which took off in November 2017 after dozens of women accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.
“It is difficult to conceive of a similar case in recent memory that has generated more inflammatory press coverage,” Aidala wrote.
A message left with the Manhattan district attorney’s office was not immediately returned.
Weinstein, 67, is charged with raping a woman in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006. He has pleaded not guilty and has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex. He is free on $1 million bail.
Last week, prosecutors acknowledged they would return to the grand jury seeking a new indictment of Weinstein, an unusual move so close to trial set to begin Sept. 9.
Prosecutors are not expected to add new charges in the new indictment. According to Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, they are seeking to put before the grand jury the testimony of a woman who claims Weinstein raped her in New York in the winter of 1993-1994, as a means of bolstering the testimony of the two accusers in the case.
Weinstein’s defense team – his third since he was indicted – is led by attorneys Aidala and Donna Rotunno; they have argued that a new indictment would give them another 45 days to file pretrial motions, thus delaying the start of the trial.
If an appellate judge also grants a change of venue motion, that, too, could delay the trial.
Professional jury consultants, who advise lawyers during jury selection, say the selection process isn’t designed to eliminate potential jurors just because they’ve heard or read about the case; it’s more about whether they have biases based on their life experiences and if they can set those aside, says Brittany Cross, senior litigation consultant for Magna Legal Services.
“There is no doubt it will be difficult to find a juror who has been insulated from media coverage surrounding the case, let alone 12 of them,” predicts Cross. “Moving the trial to an area outside New York County will most likely give the defense its best shot at a fair jury, and jury selection will be critical for the parties in this case.”
But Rachel York Colangelo, managing director of jury consulting for Magna, says not everybody – not even in New York City – is a news junkie following every detail of the case.
“One would be surprised at how little some people may actually have read, heard, or care about his case in particular, or the #MeToo movement in general,” Colangelo says.
This piece originally appeared on USA Today on August 21, 2019.