By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Denying he was biased, the judge in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial on Thursday refused to remove himself from the case, rejecting an accusation by the former film producers’ lawyers.
“I have in no way prejudged this case,” Justice James Burke told Weinstein’s lawyers. “I am going to great lengths to afford your client a fair trial.”
Allegations of sexual misconduct against Weinstein by dozens of women sparked the rise of the #MeToo movement.
The 67-year old has pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting two women in New York, and faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault. His trial began on Monday and could last up to two months.
One of Weinstein’s lawyers, Arthur Aidala, filed a motion on Wednesday urging Burke to recuse himself.
As evidence of judicial bias, Aidala cited a comment Burke made Tuesday when he threatened to revoke Weinstein’s bail after catching him using his cellphone in court.
“Is this really the way you want to end up in jail for the rest of your life, by texting and violating a court order?” the judge said at the time.
Burke on Thursday said that even if the comments were “hyperbolic,” they were not evidence of prejudice.
““I certainly never actually meant that I was going to put your client in jail for life, nor did I mean, because I have not, that I have prejudged whether he is guilty or innocent of the charges,” the judge said.
Burke also denied Aidala’s request to delay the trial for a “cooling-off period.”
“There is no time like the present to go forward,” the judge said. “All sides are ready.”
Since 2017, more than 80 women, including many famous actresses, have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct dating back decades.
Those allegations helped fuel the #MeToo movement, which encouraged women to go public with misconduct allegations against powerful men.
Weinstein has denied the allegations, saying any sexual encounters he had were consensual.
The former film producer made his mark with critically acclaimed films such as “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love.”
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)