Harvey Weinstein's defense lawyers asked a New York City judge Wednesday to step aside from presiding over his rape case because of "prejudicial and inflammatory" comments about the fallen movie mogul, which they say suggest he has already decided that Weinstein is guilty before hearing any evidence.
The defense request for Judge James Burke's recusal in the case — which came on the second day of jury selection also cited his scolding of Weinstein on Tuesday, when the judge threatened to jail Weinstein for use of a cellphone in the Manhattan Criminal Court courtroom in violation of Burke's directives.
"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?" Burke asked Weinstein on Tuesday.
Weinstein's lawyer Arthur Aidala in his letter to Burke, which was obtained by the news site Deadline.com, cited the judge's comments to Weinstein, and other actions "reflect the Court's animum towards [Weinstein] and have created a situation in which the Court's 'impartiality might reasonably be questioned,' in violation of New York State's Rules of Judicial Conduct."
Those actions include Burke's denial of a defense request to move the trial out of Manhattan to limit the effects of "overwhelmingly negative pre-trial publicity and interest" Weinstein's case has received.
"It has become clear to Mr. Weinstein that the Court has already violated its own mandate to the potential jurors by deciding that Mr. Weinstein is guilty before it has heard any of the trial evidence," Aidala wrote.
"Accordingly, we seek the Court's recusal from this matter and assignment of the trial to another judge."
Weinstein is accused of sex crimes against two women in Manhattan. He has pleaded not guilty.
Los Angeles prosecutors on Monday filed an indictment against Weinstein accusing him of raping one woman and sexually assaulting another one in separate incidents over a two-day period in 2013.
Aidala cited Burke's refusal to adjourn the New York case until negative media attention from the new Los Angeles case has died down in his letter asking the judge to step aside.
The defense lawyer also noted Burke's refusal to allow Weinstein's jury-selection consultant to sit with defense lawyers in court, and his denial of a request that defense lawyers be given more time than 15 minutes to question groups of 20 prospective jurors.
Weinstein has said that any sexual contact he had with women was consensual.
The exposure in 2017 of Weinstein's alleged serial sexual misconduct involving what now is upwards of 100 women who have made allegations,among them actresses Roseanna Arquette, Uma Thurman, Selma Hayek, Gwenyth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett, sparked the MeToo movement.