Attorneys in Weinstein case buy some extra time before trial

Attorney Ronald Sullivan, for Harvey Weinstein, enters State Supreme Court in New York, Friday, April 26, 2019. Both sides in Weinstein's sexual assault case want the media and the public barred from the disgraced movie mogul's court appearance.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault trial is now poised to end two years after a wave of women's allegations against him sparked the #MeToo movement

NEW YORK — Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault trial, postponed until September, is now poised to end two years after a wave of women's allegations against him sparked the #MeToo movement.

A Manhattan judge announced the delay Friday after a closed-door hearing in which prosecutors sought to broaden their case to include some of those women's accounts.

Weinstein's trial had been scheduled to begin June 3, but both sides indicated they need more time to sort through witness and evidence issues. It is now set for Sept. 9, with jury selection expected to take up to two weeks and testimony lasting about a month.

Weinstein lawyer Jose Baez, who joined the case in January, saw the delay as a boon to a defense keen on discrediting his accusers and showing that any encounters were consensual.

"We had a very good day in court today. We're glad that the trial got back to September," Baez told reporters. "This is going to give us an ample opportunity to dig into the case."

The three-month delay was Weinstein's second win of the day, after Judge James Burke decided to close the courtroom and spare him from having the media and the public hear about the prosecution's plans to bring various accusers into court.

Weinstein is charged with assaulting two women in New York City, but prosecutors want jurors to hear from many of the dozens of other women whose allegations against Weinstein haven't led to criminal charges.

Weinstein, 67, has denied all allegations of wrongdoing. He pleaded not guilty and is free on $1 million bail.

Burke said closing the courtroom for the hearing was "the only means available to avoid the tainting of the jury pool" because the proceeding dealt with material that "is prejudicial to the defendant and is highly inflammatory."

News coverage, he said, would serve no purpose other than to stir negative public sentiment toward Weinstein

Lawyers for news organizations, including The Associated Press, argued that the prosecution and defense arguments didn't meet the high legal standard for banning the media and the public.

Weinstein's case is "a matter of immense and legitimate public interest," and the allegations against him are already widely known, said Robert Balin, a lawyer for the news organizations.

Prosecutors said it was necessary to close the courtroom, both to protect Weinstein's right to a fair trial and to shield the identities of accusers whose names and allegations were expected to come up during the hearing.

Weinstein lawyer Marianne Bertuna argued that news coverage could influence potential jurors and that "the court cannot be complicit with the press in denying the defendant's right to a fair trial."

Balin said that the allegations against Weinstein from more than 80 women have already been widely reported and that many of them, such as actresses Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd, have agreed to be identified publicly. But not all have, Illuzzi-Orbon said.

An appellate judge denied a request by the media outlets to immediately halt the proceeding but granted an expedited appeal and ordered parties to file briefs by Wednesday. The news organizations want access to a transcript of the hearing and to related documents that were filed under seal.

Weinstein himself was mum as he came and went from court. Asked how he was doing, he just nodded.

He is charged with raping a female acquaintance in his Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006.

In seeking to have other accusers testify, the prosecutors in Weinstein's case appear to be echoing the strategy Philadelphia-area prosecutors used a year ago in convicting Bill Cosby at his sexual assault retrial. Hearings pertaining to such witnesses in the comedian's case, though, were open to the media and the public.

Perhaps expecting an onslaught of accusers taking the stand, Baez sent a letter this week to the lawyer for one of them, asking for emails he says show the woman acknowledged she had a consensual relationship with Weinstein.

The AP does not identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly.

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Follow Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak

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