The mogul filed a motion contending he cannot find an impartial jury in Manhattan because of the robust news media here.
Harvey Weinstein, the once-powerful movie mogul who put Manhattan's skyline in the Miramax logo, wants his trial on sexual assault charges moved out of New York City, arguing that the intense media scrutiny makes it impossible for jurors to give him a fair trial.
Among the arguments Weinstein's legal team made in a court document filed Friday was that Weinstein's name was mentioned online by Page Six, The New York Post's irreverent gossip column, more than 11,000 times.
The court papers that seek a change of venue also contend that Times Square billboards and newsstands on every corner mean city residents cannot avoid headlines related to Weinstein and that Manhattan is the epicenter of global hashtag-driven movements like #MeToo.
"New York City is the least-likely place on Earth where Mr. Weinstein could receive a fair trial," wrote Arthur L. Aidala, a lawyer for Weinstein.
A spokesman for the Manhattan district attorney's office said that it would respond in writing to the court motion, which was filed with the Appellate Division, 1st Judicial Department.
It is not at all clear that Weinstein, 67, has a better reputation elsewhere in the state.
Weinstein's celebrity connections and business dealings were already tabloid and trade fodder well before October 2017, when The New York Times and The New Yorker revealed the sexual harassment and abuse allegations against him.
Those articles generated worldwide news coverage about Weinstein, fueling a national debate and contributing to a reckoning about workplace harassment and sexual assault, which is now inextricably linked to his name.
The accusations, many from high-profile actresses, ignited the conversation that vaulted "me, too" from a two-word phrase to a political movement and led to a flood of allegations about sexual misconduct that brought down many other powerful men.
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In his motion, Aidala acknowledged that the attention surrounding Weinstein's case — which he called "an unprecedented amount of negative publicity" — expanded well beyond the five boroughs.
"It is difficult to conceive of a similar case in recent memory that has generated more inflammatory press coverage," he wrote.
But he suggested that because New York City was the center of the media world, holding Weinstein's trial there would create a spectacle that would coerce prospective jurors to follow the court of public opinion.
It would be impossible, he wrote, "for Mr. Weinstein to obtain a fair and impartial jury that could come to court every day past newsstands, and the throngs of activists, celebrities and journalists" without being swayed.
Motions to change a trial's venue are common in high-profile criminal cases that generate a swirl of coverage. Defense attorneys generally see an onslaught of media coverage as an obstacle to picking an impartial jury.
"If the publicity is heavily tilted against you in a particular jurisdiction, there's a concern that you just can't find those jurors or that it's basically impossible," said Daniel S. Medwed, a professor at the Northeastern University School of Law.
But judges in these cases typically must balance concerns over finding a neutral jury with a well-established legal precedent that cases should be tried where the crimes took place.
Daniel Richman, a former prosecutor who teaches at Columbia Law School, said that judges, who have wide leeway in deciding these motions, have been reluctant to change the venue of trials. "The defense generally faces a real uphill battle," he said.
In Weinstein's case in particular, Richman and Medwed said it might be difficult for lawyers to show that news coverage had been more prejudicial in New York than elsewhere, given how much national attention the case has received.
They pointed to the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was sentenced to death in 2015 for his role in the Boston Marathon bombing. Tsarnaev's lawyers had asked for his trial to be moved from eastern Massachusetts, arguing among other things that media coverage would influence would-be jurors. Judges ultimately denied the request.
In the motion in Weinstein's case, Aidala described an "unending and ever-expanding deluge of local, national and international news, press coverage and online social media hysteria."
He described New York City as "ground zero" for all of it, as well as for a political movement that he said disproportionately affected the views of Democrats in the city when it came to harassment issues.
The motion repeatedly mentioned Page Six, which Aidala called a fixture of local news and accused of "constant, biased and sensational reporting." The New York Post declined to comment.
As an alternative to a Manhattan court, Aidala's motion proposed moving the trial to Suffolk County, the easternmost county in Long Island, which is within New York City's media reach but has more conservative politics. Another option, he wrote, would be Albany County, a longtime Democratic bastion about 150 miles north of New York City.
Weinstein's trial is scheduled to begin September 9 in state Supreme Court in Manhattan. He has been indicted on charges of rape, criminal sexual act and predatory sexual assault stemming from the accusations of two women.
The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., is also seeking a new grand jury indictment that would allow actress Annabella Sciorra, who has accused Weinstein of rape, to testify at his trial. Several women are expected to testify about additional allegations in an effort to establish a pattern of behavior.
Weinstein has denied the allegations and has said the sexual encounters were consensual. This year, he built a "dream team" of heavy-hitting lawyers that has since fallen apart. The motion filed Friday came about a month after Weinstein hired two new lawyers, Donna Rotunno and Damon M. Cheronis, to take over his case.
Written by: Michael Gold
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