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Manhattan Judge in Weinstein Criminal Case Weighs Closing Evidence Hearing

Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein. Photo Credit: John Carucci/AP

The judge overseeing the criminal trial against Harvey Weinstein has been asked by the parties to close the courtroom during an upcoming evidence hearing over concerns the material discussed could prejudice the disgraced movie producer's right to a fair trial.

On April 17, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice James Burke alerted news media that both sides had requested the courtroom be closed to the public during the court’s review of Molineux and Sandoval evidence scheduled for April 26.

The Molineux application was brought by the office of Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr., which seeks to introduce evidence of uncharged crimes and “bad acts” allegedly committed by Weinstein in the case. The office’s Sandoval application specifically aims to bring similar evidence into trial in the event Weinstein takes the stand.

Both motions are opposed by Weinstein. According to Burke, specific objections were raised about the introduction or use of uncharged crimes and bad acts for any purpose. Weinstein previously secured the dismissal of one of the six sexual assault-related charges after additional information cast doubt on the credibility of one of the accusers’ claims.

In separate letters released by the court, both sides argued the circumstances warrant barring the public.

Writing for the DA’s office, ADA Joan Illuzzi-Orbon argued that closing the court for the evidence hearings would “strike the proper balance” between the public’s “qualified right” to be present and “the defendant’s right to a fair trial by an impartial jury.” Any material the court agreed to allow at trial would obviously become public then, “or earlier if disclosure will not compromise the defendants’ right to a fair trial,” Illuzzi-Orbon wrote.

Illuzzi-Orbon noted, as another pertinent consideration, that the identity of potential witnesses who claim to be victims of sexual assault would remain protected from public disclosure, in the event Burke precluded them from testifying at trial.

Weintein’s attorney Ronald Sullivan Jr. told the court prior precedent gave it the inherent power to close proceedings to protect a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

“These motions concern alleged, uncharged, and unproven misconduct that may ultimately never be allowed in evidence,” he wrote. “To expose prospective jurors to such material will prejudice both Mr. Weinstein’s and the People’s right to a fair trial and an impartial jury.”

Burke gave members of the press until April 22 to file letters with the court arguing why both the hearing should be open and why the submissions regarding the motion papers detailing the information to be discussed should be unsealed. The court plans on holding a preliminary hearing on Friday on all issues before making a determination ahead of the evidence hearing.

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