Criminal Justice

Op-ed by Harvey Weinstein lawyer spurs prosecutor complaint and gag order

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Harvey Weinstein 2014

Harvey Weinstein in 2014. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The judge overseeing the sexual assault trial of film producer Harvey Weinstein barred the defense from talking to the press Tuesday after a member of the team wrote an op-ed asking jurors to “do what they know is right.”

Judge James Burke of Manhattan issued the gag order after a prosecutor complained about the Newsweek op-ed by defense lawyer Donna Rotunno, report the New York Law Journal, the New York Times and Variety.

In the op-ed, which ran over this past weekend, Rotunno said it is difficult for jurors to avoid negative media coverage and outside influences. She also criticized sexual assault charges against Weinstein in Los Angeles, announced on the first day of his Manhattan trial.

“The mocking of Mr. Weinstein’s walker, the unflattering courtroom-artist sketches of his body, the countless critical op-eds and biased stories, and the convenient timing of the politically motivated charges in Los Angeles were all designed to predetermine his guilt,” Rotunno wrote.

“I expect a fair and impartial jury for Mr. Weinstein and every other American,” Rotunno wrote in the op-ed. “I implore the members of this jury to do what they know is right and was expected of them from the moment they were called upon to serve their civic duty in a court of law.

“The facts are the facts. Harvey Weinstein is innocent. His fate hangs in the balance, and the world is watching.”

The lead prosecutor, Joan Illuzzi, told Burke that the op-ed “is 100% inappropriate behavior.”

Rotunno previously irked prosecutors when she criticized Weinstein’s accusers in interviews with reporters and spoke with the New York Times in a podcast.

Rotunno said in the podcast she wouldn’t have been sexually assaulted “because I would never put myself in that position.”

Jurors in the Manhattan case began deliberating Tuesday morning. Weinstein is facing five felony charges, including rape, criminal sexual assault and predatory sexual assault.

The main charges are based on testimony by two women. One woman alleges that Weinstein raped her in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013, and the other alleges that Weinstein forced oral sex on her in his New York City apartment in 2006.

Several other women were allowed to testify about Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct in an attempt to show show a pattern of abuse.

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