The question appears to signal that prosecutors are worried that his appearance may influence people.
"Is there anything about Harvey Weinstein, looking at him today, that makes you feel that there's no way that man's a rapist?" Hast said to the group during Thursday's expanded vetting process. No one in the group volunteered a concern.
When defense lawyer Damon Cheronis had his turn for questioning in a trial process known as voir dire, he said witnesses would probably get emotional and sought the potential jurors' assurances that they would listen intently to cross-examination. He also brought up "victim shaming" and suggested that accusers might have been motivated to have encounters with Weinstein in the hope of benefiting their careers.
"Does anybody think an individual could have sex with someone that they may not find attractive for reasons other than love?" he asked, eliciting silence.
He also got into the meat of what is expected to be the defense case — hinting that the accusers may be rewriting history by turning what was once consensual into a crime. He asked whether they thought a person who willingly had sexual relations with a partner could "change their story to years later turn someone into a pariah and say what was once consensual . . . [is] something different?"
"Does anybody think that can't happen?" he posed. Again, there was quiet.
The seven people selected to sit for Wednesday's opening statements include three white men, three black women and a black man.
The absence of white women — about seven were excused by the defense without the need to establish cause — prompted a complaint by prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, who insisted that the demographic was being purposely excluded by Weinstein's attorneys.
"They're systematically eliminating every young white female on this jury, Judge, so we object," she said. Burke sided with the defense after they provided justification for dismissing a couple of the women Illuzzi-Orbon noted. The prosecutor later amended her complaint to include white women in general.
A 72-year-old white woman the defense rejected wrote a book on workplace sexual harassment, defense attorney Donna Rotunno said.
"This is not some conspiracy against the state to, you know, pick jurors that she thinks we're trying to get rid of," Rotunno argued.
Thursday was the first day of voir dire — following seven days of prescreening an original group of at least 600 called for jury service specifically for the Weinstein case. That process was marred with some controversy and surprising moments, including when model Gigi Hadid was brought into the courtroom as a jury candidate. Several potential jurors said they knew Weinstein or had personal experience with sexual assault.
Weinstein, who has been accused by scores of women of sexual abuse, assault and harassment, is charged with predatory sexual assault, criminal sex act and rape involving three women. He denies having sex that was not consensual with anyone.
In the morning, Burke threatened to hold a potential juror in contempt of court for discussing the case on Twitter despite a strict judicial order.
The social media exchange by author Howard Mittelmark was in violation of Burke’s order to prospective panelists to refrain from discussing the case with anyone, by any means.
Burke specifically warned Mittelmark and the other hundreds of candidates about refraining from social media interactions. The contempt charge he’s now facing carries up to a month in jail.
Mittelmark asked followers last week “how a person might hypothetically leverage serving on the jury of a high-profile case to promote their new novel.” He recently wrote a book titled “Written Out,” according to online profiles.
When Mittelmark was brought into the courtroom, he was handed a copy of his Twitter post from Jan. 7, which appears to have been deleted.
“I would advise you to get an attorney to show cause to tell me why I should not hold you in contempt,” Burke told Mittelmark, who was escorted to the courtroom by court officers. The charge carries a fine and up to 30 days in jail, the judge said.
Burke ordered him to return to the courthouse on March 10, days after the expected conclusion of Weinstein’s trial, for a proceeding to determine whether he should face charges.
“Oh, well, let me write this down,” Mittelmark said as he reached for his backpack.
“What you should write there is, ‘to show cause why you should not be held in contempt,’ ” Burke said. “If you cannot afford an attorney, I will get one for you.”
There was no further discussion except a “thank you” from Mittelmark, who was told to return to the main jury room. He could be considered for another case.
Both sides had already agreed to dismiss him along with more than 60 others — including Hadid — before the in-depth questioning of jurors. The majority of the people originally brought in were let go after saying that they couldn’t be fair to Weinstein or that they had other pressing personal issues. A total of 146 people were walked into the courtroom after the Mittelmark debacle to be vetted further by the attorneys.
Public allegations by numerous Weinstein accusers are credited with spawning the #MeToo movement and many accusations lodged against prominent men across the spectrum of society — including entertainment, media and government.
Weinstein faces charges of raping a woman at a hotel in Manhattan in 2013 and forcing a sex act on production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006. Haleyi went public with her story after other accounts of Weinstein’s alleged behavior surfaced.
Actress Annabella Sciorra is an alleged victim in the “pattern charge” — predatory sexual assault — for which Weinstein faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and up to life.
Weinstein’s trial started on Jan. 6 in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan. Roughly a third of the original pool set aside for Weinstein was excused because of qualifying conflicts.