the law

Weinstein Juror Almost Kicked Off Trial for Reading My Dark Vanessa

Photo: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Lawyers for Harvey Weinstein wanted a juror in his Manhattan rape and sexual-assault trial kicked off the jury, claiming she was “reviewing books on predatory older men” — including Kate Elizabeth Russell’s controversial debut novel, My Dark Vanessa — during the proceedings. This juror is the same panelist who herself penned a novel involving “predatory older men.”

“It’s my understanding that you’re asking for juror No. 11 to be discharged and asking for alternate juror No. 1” to take her place, Justice James Burke said.

Weinstein lawyer Damon Cheronis told Burke that juror No. 11 had posted a review of the book to a book-review site on January 29. The review states that she “liked a lot about this novel.” He argued that they “believe that is in violation of the court’s order” not to consume media related to the trial.

My Dark Vanessa is about a woman who revisits a sexual relationship she had with her English teacher when she was just 15 years old, when another ex-student makes sexual-misconduct allegations against him.

On the same book-review site, the juror also said she was reading Vanessa Springora’s Le Consentement. Springora, in the book, describes being sexually preyed upon as a teenage girl by author Gabriel Matzneff.

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi contended that Weinstein’s defense was making an “end run” to dump a juror they didn’t want. Justice Burke brought the juror out to answer questions.

“So, I understand that during the course of the trial, you reviewed some books online about various topics, about child abuse and predatory older men,” Burke said, noting that there was a review published about one week ago.

She said that she posted about reading the French book Le Consentement, but I don’t think I’ve reviewed it yet.”

Burke thanked the juror, and she was not dismissed.

“She apparently is simply reading the book, so the motion is denied,” Burke said of the defense’s request to boot juror No. 11.

Had she been dismissed, it would have changed the demographic makeup of Weinstein’s jury. Alternate juror No. 1 is a man, meaning No. 11’s dismissal would have left the jury with eight men and four women.

Burke also ordered Weinstein’s defense team Tuesday to stop “communicating with the public and the press” until a verdict comes down.

Burke’s order came after prosecutors complained that lead Weinstein lawyer Donna Rotunno addressed jurors in an op-ed in Newsweek this weekend.

“Defense team, you’re ordered to refrain from communicating with the public and the press until there’s a verdict in this case,” Burke said. “I will caution you about the tentacles of your public-relations juggernaut.”

After Burke said this, a Weinstein rep turned toward the audience and mouthed the word “tentacle” with amusement, waving his fingers to emulate sea creatures’ feelers. It was unclear who, if anyone, was the desired recipient of said tentacle spirit-fingers.

Weinstein faces five counts in his New York case for alleged attacks involving two women, onetime Project Runway production assistant Mimi Haleyi and former actress Jessica MannSopranos actress Annabella Sciorra’s testimony that Weinstein raped her around late 1993 is being used to buttress the two most serious counts, for predatory sexual assault. He has pleaded not guilty.

UPDATE, February 19, 11:28 a.m.: Weinstein’s lawyers on Wednesday again asked for juror No. 11 to be booted from the Manhattan rape and sexual-assault trial over her review of My Dark Vanessa, claiming she hadn’t been straight-up with the judge when questioned about her reading habits.

Cheronis cited Burke’s statement to this juror Tuesday in which the judge said, “I understand that during the course of the trial you reviewed some books online.”

“The juror said, ‘I have not,’” Cheronis said in court. “There was a review published within the last week or so. The juror said, ‘I don’t know what you mean.’”

Cheronis also said, “The juror responded, ‘I don’t think I reviewed it yet.’” The attorney also maintained that Burke’s questioning hadn’t sufficiently probed her reviewing My Dark Vanessa.

“The initial answer that she hadn’t reviewed any books was not candid; moreover, the following colloquy with the court only dealt with the French book,” Cheronis said.

Burke stood by his decision not to boot juror No. 11, saying, “My finding is nonetheless that she just hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Update, February 24: Harvey Weinstein’s verdict has been announced.

Weinstein Juror Almost Booted for Reading My Dark Vanessa