Entertainment

Media outlets fight to keep Harvey Weinstein's sex assault hearing open

A number of U.S. media organizations are battling in court to ensure that a pre-trial hearing in Harvey Weinstein's sex assault case remains open to the public, against the wishes of prosecution and defence lawyers.

Prosecution wants courtroom closed to public to protect potential witnesses and right to fair trial

Harvey Weinstein, seen arriving at New York Supreme Court in December, is trying to have a hearing on Friday kept closed to media and the public. (Julio Cortez/Associated Press)

News organizations are going to court in hopes of pulling back the curtain on Harvey Weinstein's next court appearance in his sexual assault case.

The organizations, including The Associated Press and the New York Times, are filing court papers on Monday that argue New York City prosecutors and Weinstein's lawyers haven't met a high legal standard for barring the media and the public from Friday's hearing.

Prosecutors contend the hearing should be closed to protect Weinstein's right to a fair trial and for the privacy of women whose allegations against him are not part of the underlying criminal charges. Weinstein's lawyers say news coverage could taint the jury pool.

Prosecutors want the women to testify at Weinstein's June 3 trial to show he has had a pattern of violating women. They also expect to discuss evidence that could be used against Weinstein, the Academy Award-winning Hollywood producer and executive, if he testifies.

'No rational basis'

A lawyer for the news organizations, Robert Balin, argues that holding the hearing behind closed doors would do nothing to safeguard Weinstein's right to a fair trial because allegations against him from more than 80 women have already been widely reported.

Many of those women, such as actresses Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd, have agreed to be identified publicly.

"Clearly, there is no rational basis — let alone 'compelling circumstances' — that could justify the parties' effort to suppress this information now that it is in the public domain as a result of widespread news reporting," Balin wrote in the filing.

Balin called closing the courtroom an "extreme remedy" and argued that as much as possible the hearing should be held in open court.

Weinstein is charged with raping an unidentified female acquaintance in his hotel room in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006. Those women have not agreed to be publicly identified. The Associated Press does not identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly.

Weinstein has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex. He pleaded not guilty and is free on $1 million US bail. His trial is scheduled to begin June 3.

Judge James Burke said he would hear arguments from the news organizations' lawyers just before the start of Friday's hearing. The lawyers, in their filing, asked to be heard sooner so that they may appeal if he rules against them.

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