Seven of the 12 jurors who will decide the fate of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein were chosen on Thursday out of a panel that briefly included supermodel Gigi Hadid.
The three women and four men will be among those to determine if Weinstein is guilty of predatory sexual assault and first-degree rape in connection with alleged assaults on his former production assistant in 2006 and another woman in 2013.
“This trial is not a referendum on the #MeToo movement,” Manhattan Supreme Court Justice James Burke said to a pool of 140 before individual questioning began. “You must decide this case on the evidence.”
Hadid was dismissed only minutes after arriving because both the defense and prosecutors “found her to be unsuitable,” even though she insisted she could be impartial. It was decided that her presence would be disruptive, court officials confirmed to The Daily Beast.
Another potential juror was dismissed for tweeting about the trial after receiving a summons to appear. Burke ordered that person to return in March and said they could face jail time.
“There’s one person who did clearly violate the court’s [order],” Burke said. “I am asking you to return to this courtroom… to show cause for why I should not hold you in contempt.”
Weinstein has been accused of misconduct ranging from crude behavior to rape by dozens of women—including top Hollywood actresses—but these are the first criminal charges to arise out of those allegations.
Weinstein’s defense attorney, Donna Rotunno, began Thursday’s line of questioning by asking the potential jurors whether they think her client is guilty and whether anybody is “going to give women more credence or believe that they are more believable, more reliable because they are women?”
After nobody raised their hand, Rotunno asked whether “anyone here who’s heard anything positive about Mr. Weinstein?”
“I’ve heard that, yes, he’s a successful movie producer,” one person said.
On Wednesday night, Weinstein’s defense team filed a motion asking to question jurors behind closed doors. That motion was brought up on Thursday, with Rotunno stating that about 30 potential jurors had reported being sexual assault victims or knowing someone who is a sexual assault victim and that the line of questioning in a room full of strangers may be uncomfortable.
“I think asking these questions in front of other people can be quite difficult and will contaminate the entire pool,” Rotunno said.
Burke shot down the request, stating the current “four-part, laborious, time-consuming jury panel is working.”
Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi also objected to the request, saying, “I don’t think the defense could possibly say that a person who had either themselves been sexually assaulted or know someone who has been sexually assaulted is now no longer qualified to sit on this case. That is not the law.”
Since last Tuesday, hundreds of prospective jurors have appeared at the courthouse to answer questions about whether they can be unbiased in a case that has been making headlines since the first allegations were published in a 2017 bombshell report by The New York Times.
More than 80 women have since come forward to accuse the film titan of sexual misconduct and using his influence to coerce them into silence spanning three decades. At trial, prosecutors plan to argue that Weinstein capitalized on the power and prestige of his production empire, The Weinstein Company, to cover up a pattern of predatory behavior.
The allegations helped launch the global #MeToo movement, which inspired hundreds of women to come forward with their own accounts of sexual harassment or assault at the hands of powerful men in politics, media, and the entertainment industry.
Weinstein has repeatedly denied the allegations. He faces life in prison if convicted and is also facing several sex crime charges in Los Angeles.
As potential jurors were questioned, a New York City appellate judge denied Weinstein’s appeal for a stay of the trial. The judge, however, determined he will consider the defense’s appeal to move the trial to Suffolk or Albany.