A woman writing a novel about ‘predatory older men’ has been seated on the Harvey Weinstein jury
(CNN) – A woman writing a novel about "predatory" older men and their relationships with younger woman will serve as one of 12 jurors who will decide Harvey Weinstein's fate in one of the most high-profile cases in the country.
The New York criminal trial of Harvey Weinstein is based on the relationships between the former Hollywood power broker and producer and two younger women. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office is working to prove to the jury those associations included sexual assault and rape, while Weinstein's attorneys maintain his sexual relationships with the two women were consensual.
Weinstein, 67, is accused of raping a woman in a New York hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on another woman in 2006 at his Manhattan apartment, court documents show. Weinstein pleaded not guilty to five felony charges: two counts of predatory sexual assault, one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree and one count each of first-degree rape and third-degree rape.
The selection of seven men and five women as the trial jury was finalized Friday, capping a selection process that began last week in New York State Supreme Court. Three alternate jurors, two women and one man, were chosen.
The 11th juror to be seated in this trial is at the heart of why Weinstein's defense attorneys have filed a motion for a mistrial.
"This is my biggest fear," Weinstein's lead defense attorney, Donna Rotunno, told CNN Friday, referring to what she believes can't be a fair and impartial jury panel, and one subject to being tainted by juror No. 11.
Jury selection in this trial took place over two weeks and went through two phases: pre-screening and voir dire.
During each day of the pre-screening phase, the court rotated through the more than 100 New York City residents that received a jury summons and asked them just two questions: could they be a fair and impartial juror and are they available to serve on the jury for the length of the trial, which could last up to eight weeks.
"Based on news coverage and experiences with friends and family, I don't think I can be fair," one man told Judge James Burke on the second day of jury selection, according to a pool report.
"I read all the news, I have my mind made, and I don't think I'd be a fair juror," another woman told the court.
"I think I'm still able to keep an open mind on the facts," supermodel Gigi Hadid told the court after stating she's met Selma Hayek, an actress named on the trial's witness list. Hadid was eventually dismissed from jury duty.
Of 120 potential jurors, 43 were dismissed on the first day of jury selection because they couldn't remain impartial, according to a pool reporter. Nearly 50 were dismissed for the same reason on the second day, according to the pool reporter in the courtroom.
Potential jurists who told the court they believed they could remain fair and impartial and were available to serve for the length of the trial were instructed by Judge Burke to go home, fill out a jury questionnaire and return to court with it on January 16.
Roughly 140 prospective jurors, completed questionnaires in hand, returned to court Thursday. The 72-question form asked the potential jurors who were about to enter the voir dire process a range of questions, from what they do for a living to their hobbies and interests.
Voir dire is a process in open court where potential jurors are asked questions on the record by prosecutors and defense lawyers to determine their suitability for jury service. The phrase is French for "to speak the truth."
Prosecutors and defense attorneys, hoping to secure individuals who side with their position of the high-stakes trial, asked a variety of questions to prospective jurors:
"Are you able to go home and say, 'I found Harvey Weinstein not guilty?'"
"Does everyone here appreciate the fact that somebody could be suffering in their own personal life and yet be able to put on a brave face?"
"Who believes people have consensual relationships at work to get ahead?"
Juror No. 11
Throughout the voir dire process, prosecutors and defense attorneys have 20 peremptory challenges, meaning each side can dismiss up to 20 potential jurists without providing a reason for doing so. Attorneys can present an unlimited amount of challenges for cause — explaining to the judge that a potential juror should be eliminated because of bias, prejudice or prior knowledge that would affect his or her ability to serve as an impartial juror.
Weinstein's defense team has used the last of their peremptory challenges before it came time to question the woman eventually chosen as juror No. 11.
The woman was not forthcoming about her upcoming book on the jury questionnaire, Weinstein's attorneys Damon Cheronis and Arthur Aidala argued in court Friday.
Lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi responded by saying juror No. 11's questionnaire included the fact that she enjoyed "novel writing."
The juror indicated she enjoyed "novel writing" under the "hobbies and interests" section of the questionnaire, Weinstein attorney Donna Rotunno told CNN.
"Not, 'I am writing a book on this topic,'" she said. "Big difference."
Cheronis asked the then-potential juror about the research involved in her upcoming fiction book.
Defense claims 'inconsistent" answers
She said "no" when asked by Cheronis if she has ever done any research on predatory men. She gave the same response when asked if she's ever done any research on relationships between younger women and older men, Rotunno said. And she answered, 'no' when Cheronis asked her if she's kept abreast of the Weinstein case.
"She gave answers that we thought were inconsistent based on other things we were able to find online, and we wanted to raise those issues to the judge, and we believed that those presented a cause challenge," Rotunno told CNN.
Prospective jurors and journalists in the courtroom watched the back and forth between Weinstein's attorney and the woman.
Jurors were excused from the courtroom and Burke denied the defense's request to grant them an additional peremptory challenge. Weinstein's attorneys then argued juror No. 11 should be stricken from the seated jury for cause because of her upcoming novel.
Burke immediately and without hesitation denied the defense challenge for cause without comment.
Weinstein, his attorneys and even some members of the press in the downtown Manhattan courtroom appeared shocked by Burke's ruling that juror No. 11 would remain on the seated jury.
According to the pool reporter in the courtroom, Weinstein mouthed "wow" when she was allowed to be seated on the trial jury.
Juror No. 12 was chosen soon after and the Weinstein jury had been selected.
Opening statements to begin
Burke is expected to address outstanding motions — including a renewed effort by the defense to move the case outside of New York and to declare a mistrial based on selection of Juror No. 11 — when court resumes Tuesday.
Opening statements are expected to begin Wednesday with Joan Illuzi, a veteran prosecutor who has worked in the district attorney's office for more than 30 years, presenting the prosecution's case to the 12 jurists and Cheronis outlining the defense strategy.
Rotunno, a vocal critic of the #MeToo movement, told CNN that she will present the defense’s closing arguments.
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