(Reuters) – Potential jurors are expected to appear in a Manhattan court on Wednesday for former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial as lawyers try to find impartial New Yorkers to decide his fate.
Jury selection got off to a dramatic start on Tuesday when a visibly angry Judge James Burke caught Weinstein texting in court and threatened him with jail if he did it again.
Weinstein is out on bail, but is required to wear a tracking device on his ankle, which has been visible as he hobbled into court using a walker. He is recovering from back surgery.
Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting two women in New York. He faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault.
Since 2017, more than 80 women, including many famous actresses, have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct dating back decades.
The Weinstein allegations helped fuel the #MeToo movement which encouraged women to go public with misconduct allegations against powerful men.
Weinstein has denied the allegations, saying any sexual encounters he had were consensual.
The former film producer made his mark with low-budget, critically acclaimed films such as “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love.”
Burke has denied requests by Weinstein’s legal team to move the trial out of the media glare of Manhattan or to delay the start given the challenges of finding impartial jurors.
On Monday, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced charges against Weinstein of sexual assault of two unidentified women in 2013.
Burke said the jury would be instructed that the charges in California are not evidence of guilt.
Burke kicked off jury selection on Tuesday by speaking to 120 potential jurors in the courtroom about the importance of jury service and telling them the identity of the defendant.
“Having heard of him, or even having heard the allegations made against him in the press, does not disqualify you,” he told them.
Those who said they could not be impartial or could not serve for other reasons were dismissed on Tuesday, while the remainder were told to report back on Jan. 16 for further vetting.
Prosecutors need 12 jurors to back a conviction, while Weinstein needs just one holdout for a hung jury.
The trial is expected to last six weeks.
Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool