Harvey Weinstein wants a new judge.
Defense lawyers for the embattled movie producer filed a motion in New York on Wednesday asking the judge to recuse himself from the case for threatening a day earlier to revoke the defendant’s bail with “comments [that] were so inflammatory, biased and prejudicial that they have virtually gone viral.”
The request came after a visibly exasperated Manhattan Supreme Court Judge James Burke had laid into Weinstein on Tuesday after observing him using a cellphone in court despite repeated warnings at previous hearings that it was prohibited in his courtroom.
“Is this really the way that you want to end up in jail for the rest of your life, by texting and violating a court order?” Manhattan Supreme Court Judge James Burke asked Weinstein from the bench Tuesday.
Burke went on to suggest that the defendant was incapable of holding a cellphone without using it.
“Before you ever even come into the courthouse, let alone the courtroom, take his cellphone,” Burke told defense attorneys. “Because he’s not going to be able to not use it. He did turn over two cellphones to somebody and then he had two more. It’s been an issue every single court date.”
In a letter to the judge, which Burke has yet to rule on, defense attorneys also cited a number of other factors in seeking his recusal from the case.
They cited Burke’s refusal on Tuesday to adjourn the New York case for a “cooling off period” after felony sex crimes charges were filed against Weinstein in California the previous day, his decision not to allow a change of venue to another jurisdiction, and his refusal to allow Weinstein’s jury consultant to sit at the defense table during jury selection.
“For these reasons, it has become clear to Mr. Weinstein that the Court has already violated its own mandate to the potential jurors by deciding that Mr. Weinstein is guilty before it has heard any of the trial evidence,” the letter notes.
Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him and denied ever engaging in nonconsensual sex with anyone.
Events in the Weinstein saga have moved swiftly this week.
Late Monday, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced the filing of four new felony counts of sexual assault against Weinstein involving two different women he allegedly attacked over a two-day period in California in 2013.
On Tuesday, defense attorney Arthur Aidala held aloft New York newspaper covers in court featuring reports of the new charges and implored Burke to adjourn the trial for a “cooling off period.”
“For a prosecutor, this is Christmas morning,” Aidala argued. “How much better could you get than that on the morning of jury selection to have him smeared everywhere.”
“It’s 18 or 19 hours since the L.A. press conference,” Aidala contended. “I don’t think anyone can answer the court honestly that they can be fair and unprejudiced.”
Lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi cited the new charges in Los Angeles on Tuesday to argue that Weinstein’s bail should be revoked to ensure he returns to court to face trial in New York. Burke denied her request.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office declined a request for comment on the defense motion asking Burke to recuse himself.
Weinstein is facing five felony sexual assault charges in New York stemming from alleged attacks against two women — one in 2006 and one in 2013. If convicted on the top charges, he could go to prison for life.
Meanwhile, the jury selection process in New York continued on Wednesday to move slowly.
Prospective jurors are being questioned in blocks of 120 at a time. On both Tuesday and Wednesday, more than one-quarter of each group was dismissed swiftly after telling the judge that they could not be fair and impartial in Weinstein’s case.