Regardless of what you think about Harvey Weinstein and the accusations against him, our Constitution guarantees him the right to a fair trial. A fair trial includes an unbiased and impartial jury. That means you are entitled to jurors who are not going to hold their personal experiences or beliefs against you.
Yet jury selection in the Weinstein case has been a complete circus, culminating in the seating of a juror who will likely be the key to his freedom due to lying about potential bias against the accused.
As I’m sure you know, Weinstein is on trial in New York City for rape. He has been charged with “predatory sexual assault.” Remember this phrase as you read on.
Due to Weinstein’s notoriety, each prospective juror completed a questionnaire in advance of arriving for jury selection. The purpose of a jury questionnaire is to give the parties some advance information about a perspective juror. It also helps identify jurors who may not be a good fit for a particular case. For example, a juror who identifies a bias, or perhaps was a victim of the same crimes with which the defendant is charged, would not necessarily be a fair and impartial juror.
In a letter to the court, Weinstein’s lawyers disclosed that the jury questionnaire included a catch-all question at the end: “Is there anything else that you believe the Judge and the parties should know about your qualifications to serve as a fair and impartial juror in this case?
Essentially, it’s a way to ask each juror for information that the questionnaire might not have covered, but is important for the parties and the court to know about because it might be relevant to the juror’s ability to fairly decide the charges against Weinstein.
Weinstein’s defense team included a jury consultant. A jury consultant helps review the questionnaires and does additional internet research about the prospective jurors to see what else he or she can find out. They will do a Google search, and try to identify social media accounts then scour them to see if there is anything juicy that might be used to disqualify the juror.
It turns out one of the prospective jurors has a novel coming out later this year. While it would be ridiculously easy to find this juror’s name, due to the tradition of press not identifying jurors I’ll simply refer to this person as “the novelist.”
What if I told you this person’s novel is about young women and predatory older men? Here’s how the novelist describes the book on her personal website: “three young women in the 1980s, who negotiate fraught friendships, sexuality, class, and predatory older men on the journey from innocence to independence. The narrative takes place at a Connecticut boarding school and a summer spent in New York City.”
In an article published earlier this month in The Atlantic about the passing of author Elizabeth Wurtzel, the novelist (whom The Atlantic interestingly refers to as “our friend”), talks about Wurtzel and is quoted as saying: “her fearlessness helped me tell my deeply personal story, albeit in novel form.” This certainly raises the question if any part of the novelist’s book is based in part on her own experiences. Did she encounter “predatory older men” as a teenager in high school?
Remember the catch-all question in the juror questionnaire? In a letter to the court, Weinstein’s attorneys revealed the novelist answered “no,” meaning she did not believe there was any additional information that would be relevant to the court and parties in determining whether she could be a fair and impartial juror.
You might be saying to yourself maybe she didn’t really understand the catch-all question or think she needed to disclose her book. Did I mention the novelist graduated Harvard University magna cum laude and has a master’s from Columbia University? She’s no dummy.
So fast-forward to this past Friday when the novelist was in court. During voir dire, the lawyers get to directly ask the prospective jurors questions. I have reviewed the transcript of the Q&A between one of Weinstein’s lawyers and the novelist. Here’s how it went down:
Q: Can you tell us what that book is about?
A: Yes. It’s about parents and teenagers. The three main characters are teenage girls and their parents and their struggle.
Q: Does it have anything to do with predatory older men?
A: All three girls have some relationship with an older man but it’s not a predatory situation at all.
Q: Does it have anything to do with sort of individuals who may, young women, who may be involved with older men that may be considered predatory?
Okay, let’s break this down. When asked to describe the book in court, the novelist omits that it has something to do with relationships and older men. Then, when directly asked if it involved “predatory older men,” she lies and says that while it involves older men, “it’s not a predatory situation at all.” Yet as noted above, her own website to this very day describes the book as involving “predatory older men.”
So to recap: Harvey Weinstein is charged with predatory sexual assault and one of his jurors wrote a book about young women and predatory older men. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that the novelist clearly lied and misled both the parties and the court to be on this jury. She’s probably already drafting her next novel!
While you might be saying, “I’m glad she’s on the jury, lock that rapist up!,” his lawyers are celebrating what is likely a slam dunk on appeal. Not only did this prospective juror lie, she lied about a matter that goes directly to her bias and inability to be fair and impartial.
You may not like it, but even bad actors deserve a fair trial. By allowing the novelist to sit on the jury, this judge has likely guaranteed a reversal on appeal if Weinstein is convicted.
Oh, did I mention the name of the book? “Age of Consent.” Some things you just can’t make up.