By Gabriella Borter
(Reuters) – Harvey Weinstein’s New York trial on rape charges is expected to last up to two months, and the former film producer appears to be planning on spending some of that time reading a biography about two brothers whose personal lives marred their Hollywood award-winning careers.
As jury selection kicked off this week, Weinstein, 67, brought two books to court: “The Brothers Mankiewicz: Hope, Heartbreak and Hollywood Classics” and what appeared to be a vintage edition of Ken Follett’s historic novel “The Pillars of the Earth.”
Weinstein, who founded his film production company with his brother, has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting two women in New York.
Brothers Herman and Joseph Mankiewicz – whose Oscar-winning films included “Citizen Kane” and “All About Eve” – were “the most brilliant and charismatic men ever to ply their sometimes dubious trade in Hollywood,” according to a critic’s review of the biography by Sydney Ladensohn Stern on Amazon.com.
One brother fell prey to gambling and alcoholism. The other rose to fame while carrying on sexual affairs with Hollywood actresses and was fired after a period of drug use, according to the book’s synopsis.
Paul Callan, a former prosecutor and defense attorney, said he did not think the book was part of Weinstein’s courtroom strategy.
“It doesn’t strike me as a story that has a tale of innocence or redemption, which is the kind of story you would want to present to the jury if you were using this as a mechanism,” said Callan.
Weinstein’s lawyer, Donna Rotunno, said she did not advise Weinstein to bring outside reading material to court.
“Judge Burke did,” she said. “During jury selection, Mr. Weinstein has much downtime outside the presence of the jury pool. He is not reading in the courtroom.”
The judge threatened to revoke Weinstein’s bail on Tuesday after he caught the defendant using his cellphone during jury selection.
Weinstein was charged with sexual assault in May 2018. When he surrendered to New York police, he carried the biography of Elia Kazan, a movie director who stirred controversy for testifying before the House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee about communism in 1952.
Weinstein, who founded Miramax with his brother Robert in 1979, transformed the independent film industry with award-winning films like “Shakespeare in Love” and “The English Patient.”
Several criminal defense attorneys said it is unusual for a defendant to bring outside reading material to a trial, especially one in which the defendant is facing such serious charges.
Defense attorney Gerald Lefcourt said he generally asks clients to carry a notepad and pen rather than a novel to jury selection so they can participate in the vetting process.
Lefcourt said reading might be a way for Weinstein to cope with anxiety during the trial, which began the same day that the Los Angeles district attorney announced new sexual assault charges against him.
“Maybe he thinks his lawyers have it covered and rather than show any kinds of emotion, he’d rather have his head down,” he said.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis)