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US media fight Harvey Weinstein case courtroom ban

News organisations are going to court in a bid to report on Harvey Weinstein's next court appearance in his sexual assault case
News organisations are going to court in a bid to report on Harvey Weinstein's next court appearance in his sexual assault case

By Michael Sisak

News organisations are going to court in a bid to report on Harvey Weinstein's next court appearance in his sexual assault case.

The organisations, including the Associated Press and the New York Times, filed court papers yesterday that argue New York City prosecutors and Weinstein's lawyers have not 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 if he testifies.

A lawyer for the news organisations, 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," Mr Balin wrote in the filing.

He 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.

Weinstein has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.

He pleaded not guilty and is free on $1m (£770,000) bail. His trial is scheduled to begin June 3. Judge James Burke said he would hear arguments from the news organisations' lawyers before the start of Friday's hearing.

The lawyers, in their filing, asked to be heard sooner so they may appeal if he rules against them.

The news organisations are also requesting that documents filed under seal be made public and that all future filings be listed on the case docket so "the press and public receive prompt notice that such materials exist".

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