The judge in Harvey Weinstein‘s rape trial declined the defense’s request that he step aside as jury selection dipped into a third day Thursday.
Judge James Burke announced his decision Thursday, a day after Weinstein’s lawyers sent him a letter asking that he remove himself from the case. They objected to comments Burke made when he threatened to jail Weinstein for ignoring a court order barring texting in the courtroom.
Weinstein’s lawyers blasted the judge’s comments as “prejudicial and inflammatory,” and raised questions about his impartiality.
There was nothing improper about “scolding a recalcitrant defendant” over violating an order to use his cell phone in court, Burke said Thursday.
“I never meant that I was going to put your client in jail for life,” he told defense attorneys.
Judges seldom step aside from cases over such requests, but Weinstein’s lawyers could be also making a play to make an issue of Burke’s comments and rulings for a possible appeal.
The defense had further argued that Burke failed to adequately safeguard Weinstein’s right to a fair and impartial jury, in part by rejecting a request to halt jury selection for a “cooling off” period after prosecutors in Los Angeles filed new sex crimes charges against him Monday.
“There is no time like the present,” Burke said Thursday. “All sides are ready.”
Weinstein is charged in New York with raping a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and sexually assaulting another woman, Mimi Haleyi, in 2006. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison. The 67-year-old ex-studio boss has pleaded not guilty and maintains that any sexual activity was consensual.
The day’s jury selection ended at midday on Thursday and will resume Friday.