Disgraced Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was wheeled into a Los Angeles courtroom Monday for the first day of jury selection in a criminal sexual assault trial expected to last two months.
Weinstein, 70, carefully climbed from his wheelchair into a seat at the defense table next to his lawyers, Alan Jackson and Mark Werksmen, about 10:15 a.m. in Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lisa B. Lench’s courtroom.
Already serving 23 years in prison for his New York convictions, the man whose accusers helped spark the #MeToo movement in 2017 is facing 11 counts of sexual assault between 2004 and 2013 involving five women, including Jennifer Siebel Newsom, wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). Siebel Newsom is expected to testify, with the Los Angeles Times reporting Monday that she is Jane Doe 4 in Weinstein’s criminal indictment, who accuses him of raping her sometime between September 2004 and September 2005.
Siebel Newsom’s lawyer confirmed her involvement to Law&Crime on Monday.
“Like many other women, my client was sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein at a purported business meeting that turned out to be a trap,” according to an email from Elizabeth Fegan, sent through a spokeswoman. “She intends to testify at his trial in order to seek some measure of justice for survivors, and as part of her life’s work to improve the lives of women. Please respect her choice to not discuss this matter outside of the courtroom.”
Siebel Newsom first publicly accused Weinstein in a 2017 Huffington Post essay.
Jury selection is expected to take two weeks, with 67 of 75 prospective jurors who were summoned Monday being brought into court. Weinstein, wearing a dark-colored suit and light blue tie, whispered at length with Werksmen before the group was brought in. He remained seated as attorneys introduced themselves but waved at the potential jurors from his seat, according to an Associated Press pool report from the courtroom. As the group spent about an hour filling out questionnaires, the judge questioned 20 people individually in her chambers who said they needed to be excused because of the length of trial. She excused only 11 and ordered the remaining 56 to return Oct. 18 for further questioning.
Weinstein is in custody at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles after being extradited from state prison in New York in July 2021.
The jury selection process is lengthier than usual because of Weinstein’s general high-profile status, particularly in Tinseltown, and the highly publicized criminal trial in Manhattan that ended with a jury convicting him of first-degree sexual assault and third-degree rape in February 2020. New York’s highest court said in August it will hear his appeal, but if convicted in Los Angeles, Weinstein faces a sentence of life in prison, separate from the 23 years he’s serving for the New York convictions.
The case has already been through several indictments as Lench dismissed previous charges because of statute of limitations. The most recent indictment was announced in July 2021 and charges him with four counts each of forcible rape, four counts of forcible oral copulation, two counts of sexual battery by restraint and one count of sexual penetration by use of force. Deputy District Attorneys Marlene Martinez and Paul Thompson are prosecuting.
In addition to the alleged attack on Siebel Newsom, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said the charges involve Weinstein allegedly raping a woman on two occasions in November 2009 and November 2010 at a hotel in Beverly Hills. He’s also accused of sexually assaulting another woman at Beverly Hills hotel in May 2010, and he’s accused of sexually assaulting two other women separately in 2013.
Judge Lench told potential jurors on Monday, “I don’t know what you people know about what you think this case is about.”
“Whatever you have been exposed to you have been exposed to, and we will seek to find that out through the jury questioning process,” Lench said. She described the charges against Weinstein as “essentially sexual assaults, or assaults of a sexual nature.”
“As Mr. Weinstein sits before you, he is innocent,” Lench said. “If someone were to ask you for your vote right now, you would have to vote not guilty.”
The judge went through other standard admonishments not to read any news reports about the case, warning them: “I expect this case to get a fair amount of media attention and you are going to have to be vigilant.”
“No Instagram, no Twitter, no Facebook, nothing like that having to do with this case or your role as a potential juror,” Lench said. The judge drew laughter when she acknowledged ”that may be a difficult task for some of you who announce every one of your moves on social media.” She said the trial is expected to last eight weeks, possibly shorter but not longer.
The next pool of prospective jurors is due at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. The judge has banned cameras from the courtroom, and seating for reporters is limited to one dedicated pool reporter each week, then 11 up-for-grab seats each day.
This article is compiled in part from a pool report organized by The Associated Press. Today’s report is by AP writer Andrew Dalton. Law&Crime’s Meghann Cuniff will be the pool reporter later in trial.
[Image via ETIENNE LAURENT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]
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