NEW YORK — A defense lawyer for Harvey Weinstein asked potential jurors in his sexual assault case on Friday whether they believed a person would have sex with a boss for career-advancement purposes before the 12th and final juror selected and sworn in.
“Who here thinks that someone would have consensual sexual relations with someone at work to get ahead at work?” Aidala posed to the group.
A number of hands went up — at least 10 — and Aidala’s allotted time with the panel was over.
The jury — selected early Friday afternoon along with three alternates — is composed of seven men and five women. There are four black jurors and the rest are white.
Over strenuous objection from the defense, a woman who wrote a novel concerning predatory older men was selected as Juror No.11. The defense claimed that she lied about her experience with the subject and asked for a mistrial — which Justice James Burke brushed off and did not rule on.
In questioning, defense lawyer Damon Cheronis asked the author directly about the book, and she denied the subject matter that is clearly described on her own website. She said its female main characters have relationships with older men, but that “it’s not a predatory situation at all.”
Cheronis, outside the presence of the jurors, called her responses “wishy-washy.” She’s “exactly the type of juror who should not sit on this jury.”
Weinstein, 67, is charged with rape, a criminal sex act and predatory sexual assault; he faces a minimum of 10 years behind bars on the top count. He was arrested in May 2018, months after he faced a swarm of sexual assault and harassment allegations that propelled the #MeToo movement.
The once-powerful film producer denies the charges, and his representatives have maintained that Weinstein never had nonconsensual sex with anyone.
Concentrated jury questioning by the attorneys, a process known as voir dire, began Thursday morning. The trial for the Hollywood figure began last week in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
On Jan. 6, the first day of his trial, Weinstein was hit with a new set of sexual assault charges relating to two incidents in Los Angeles, after a lengthy investigation. Weinstein’s lawyers called the timing of that announcement a “coordinated” publicity stunt.
Aidala used up the defense’s 20th and last peremptory challenge by 11 a.m., meaning the team could no longer cut people without providing justification. The defense team probably would have excused the author, who Cheronis said “was not forthcoming about the subject of the book.”
Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon has repeatedly accused the Weinstein team of eliminating women, especially white women, in a concerted effort. At one point, Cheronis accused Illuzzi-Orbon of “systematically” eliminating men.
Aidala defended his elimination of a Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital employee and beauty pageant winner because she also made a go at acting and has experience as a model. She admitted in her questionnaire that in her late 20s she tried and failed to make it in that business.
“Who knows if she’s going to hold that against Mr. Weinstein?” Aidala argued.
She also was likely to identify with models who would testify at the trial, the defense attorney insisted.
“She was Miss Swimsuit New York,” Aidala said.
The jury will hear opening statements on Wednesday, and the trial is expected to last until early March.
Prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office are expected to call three accusers cited in the indictment plus three other women to support Weinstein’s alleged history of prior bad acts.
Weinstein’s team is expected to aggressively challenge the credibility of his accusers, who include a woman who accused him of raping her at a Manhattan hotel in 2013. Former production assistant Mimi Haleyi has gone public with her story that Weinstein forced oral sex on her in 2006.
Joining them on the roster of witnesses is “Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra, whose allegations are covered in the predatory sexual assault counts. She has also made public her allegation that Weinstein raped her at her Gramercy Park apartment in 1993.
None of the women accusing him came forward to law enforcement before the bombshell reports in October 2017 by the New York Times and the New Yorker that outed Weinstein as an alleged sexual abuser.
The defense is likely to say that women in Hollywood willingly had sex with him, hoping for acting roles and other assistance in return.
One of the supporting witnesses in his case is part of the Los Angeles prosecution. She was allegedly assaulted by Weinstein at a hotel in Beverly Hills in February 2013.
That woman was working as an actress and model at the time. She sought nothing from Weinstein and “was not looking for a job in America,” her lawyer David Ring said recently.
“The first time she met him she didn’t even know who he was. A mutual friend introduced her to him at a film festival,” Ring said. “Later on at night she goes back to her hotel . . . [and] she gets a phone call and he’s in the lobby demanding to come up and see her.”
The attorney, whose client is not suing Weinstein, said the movie mogul’s tactics were similar to what he allegedly used against Italian model Ambra Battilana, who reported to the New York police in 2015 that he grabbed her breast at his Tribeca office. Battilana confronted Weinstein on instruction from police investigators and the interaction was recorded.
The Manhattan district attorney decided five years ago they did not have enough information to go forward with a misdemeanor sex abuse case for the groping.
After #MeToo broke, the office came under fire for not prosecuting Weinstein.