News groups fight to keep Harvey Weinstein’s hearing open

NEW YORK — News organizations are fighting to pull back the curtain on a Harvey Weinstein court appearance that the prosecution and defence want held in secret.

The organizations, including The Associated Press and The New York Times, argued in court papers filed Monday that the sides haven’t met a high legal standard for banning the media and the public from Friday’s hearing in Weinstein’s sexual assault case.

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 if he testifies.

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 intensive 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 bail. His trial is scheduled to begin June 3.

In January, Weinstein hired Casey Anthony’s lawyer, Jose Baez, to lead a remade defence team after his previous lawyer lost a hard-fought bid to get his case thrown out. Anthony was acquitted on charges of killing her young daughter.

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.

The news organizations are also requesting that documents filed under seal in the case be made public and that all future filings, even ones made under seal, be listed on the case docket so that “the public and press receive prompt notice that such materials exist.”

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