A New York State appeals court on Thursday unanimously upheld a judge’s decision to bar the public from a critical hearing in the Harvey Weinstein rape case.
On April 26, Justice James Burke held a closed hearing on whether to allow testimony from women who claim they were assaulted by Weinstein, but whose claims are not the subject of the criminal charges. Both the prosecution and the defense argued that disclosure of such evidence at this stage could taint the jury pool.
A group of 15 media organizations, including the New York Times and the Associated Press, appealed the decision, and asked that motions related to the hearing be unsealed. The media groups argued that many, if not all, of the additional allegations against Weinstein have already been aired in the press.
In its ruling on Thursday, a five-justice panel of the First Department of the Appellate Division rejected the media organizations’ argument, finding that the subject of the hearing “was likely to be prejudicial and inflammatory.”
“Further, some or all of the allegations may have been determined to be inadmissible at trial, or may not be offered at trial even if found potentially admissible,” they wrote, adding that prosecutors have said that some of the claims have never been reported. “Given the worldwide media scrutiny this case has received, the motion court reasonably concluded that the sealing of documents relating to this single pretrial hearing was the only way to prevent tainting the jury pool with such inadmissible, prejudicial information.”
Weinstein faces life in prison if he is convicted of five charges. He is accused of forcibly performing oral sex on Mimi Haleyi in 2006, and of raping another unidentified woman in 2013. Prosecutors want to call additional women to establish a pattern of behavior, as was done in the trial of comedian Bill Cosby last year.
The Weinstein trial was expected to begin in June, but the defense asked for additional time to prepare. Burke agreed to postpone the trial to Sept. 9.