Judge refuses to remove himself after Weinstein’s lawyers claim bias

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)

Epstein’s accusers urge U.S. judge to keep him jailed until sex trafficking trial

Jeffrey Epstein (L) looks on as lawyer Martin Weinberg speaks during a a bail hearing in U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein's sex trafficking case, in this court sketch in New York, U.S., July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Two women who say they are victims of sexual misconduct by American financier Jeffrey Epstein on Monday urged a U.S. judge to keep him in jail while he awaits trial on charges of sex trafficking dozens of underage girls.

“He’s a scary person,” one of the women, Courtney Wild, told U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in federal court in Manhattan.

Wild and another accuser, Annie Farmer, spoke at the end of a hearing in which prosecutors argued that Epstein, 66, posed an “extraordinary risk of flight” and danger to the community and must remain in jail.

Epstein, who has pleaded not guilty, has asked to be allowed to live under house arrest with armed guard at his expense in his mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which is valued at $77 million.

The hedge fund manager had a social circle that over the years has included Donald Trump before he became U.S. president, former President Bill Clinton and Britain’s Prince Andrew.

Berman said he would probably announce his bail decision on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT), saying he needed more time to absorb the case.

Lawyers for Epstein said their client, who wore dark blue jail scrubs in court, has had an unblemished record since he pleaded guilty more than a decade ago to a state prostitution charge in Florida and agreed to register as a sex offender.

Critics have called that plea deal, which let Epstein avoid federal prosecution, too lenient.

Epstein is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a fortress-like jail that has been criticized by inmates and lawyers for harsh conditions.

He pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking and conspiracy charges on July 8, two days after his arrest at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, where he had flown back on his private plane from Paris. Epstein faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

Epstein is accused of arranging for girls under the age of 18 to perform nude “massages” and other sex acts, and of paying some girls to recruit others, from at least 2002 to 2005.

A prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Rossmiller, on Monday told the judge that a search of Epstein’s home uncovered nude images of underage girls, including at least one who claimed to be among the financier’s victims.

The prosecutor also said one item seized was a passport that appeared to have been issued by a foreign country in the 1980s that containing Epstein’s photo, but someone else’s name.

Last week, prosecutors said in a court filing that Epstein made payments to potential witnesses last year in an apparent effort to influence them.

One of his lawyers, Martin Weinberg, told Berman on Monday that Epstein needed to be out of jail so he and his lawyers could prepare their defense.

In 2016, Berman rejected a similar bail proposal from Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab to let him live in an apartment under the watch of privately funded guards, saying wealthy defendants should not be allowed to “buy their way out of prison by constructing their own private jail.”

The judge expressed similar skepticism on Monday, noting that all defendants have the same right to prepare their defense as Epstein.

“If that’s the standard, then what are we going to tell all those people who can’t make the $500 or $1,000 bail?” he said.

Under the Florida agreement, Epstein served 13 months in a county jail, but was allowed to go to his office during the day.

A federal judge ruled in February that the agreement violated a federal law on crime victims’ rights.

Alex Acosta, who as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida oversaw Epstein’s earlier deal, resigned on Friday as Trump’s Secretary of Labor, saying he did not want to be a distraction for the White House.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)

Archbishop who called on Pope to resign says corruption reaches the top

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano reads during the episcopal ordination of Auxiliary Bishops James Massa and Witold Mroziewski, in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., July 20, 2015. Picture taken July 20, 2015. REUTERS/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The archbishop who sparked a crisis in the Catholic Church by calling on Pope Francis to resign has denied he was motivated by personal vendetta and said he sought to show that corruption had reached the top levels of the Church hierarchy.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano has gone into hiding since conservative media published an 11-page statement in which he alleged the pope knew for years about sexual misconduct by an American cardinal and did nothing about it.

Vigano has been communicating through Aldo Maria Valli, an Italian television journalist who Vigano consulted several times before releasing his statement last Sunday when the pope was in Ireland.

Italian media has reported he was upset because he was never made a cardinal by former Pope Benedict or because Francis blocked his further advancement in the Church.

“I have never had feelings of vendetta and rancor in all these years,” he was quoted as telling Valli, who has been publishing statements from Vigano in his blog.

“I spoke out because corruption has reached the top levels of Church hierarchy,” said Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador to Washington.

The Vatican had no comment on the new accusations by Vigano.

In his statement, Vigano accused a long list of current and past Vatican and U.S. Church officials of covering up the case of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned last month in disgrace.

One of the people he attacks in the statement is Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone, who was secretary of state under former Pope Benedict.

Italian media reports have said Vigano was upset because Bertone had blocked any possibility of him becoming a cardinal.

In his comments published on Valli’s blog, Vigano says he himself gave up the possibility of becoming a cardinal “for the good of the Church”.

Vigano did not include any supporting documents in his remarkably blunt statement in which he said cover-ups in the Church were making it look like “a conspiracy of silence not so dissimilar from the one that prevails in the mafia”.

On his flight home from Ireland on Sunday, Francis told reporters he would “not say one word” about the accusations.

“Read the document carefully and judge it for yourselves,” he said.

Francis’ supporters say the statement contains holes and contradictions and note that Vigano prepared it with help from two journalists who have been critical of Francis, citing this as evidence that it forms part of an ideological anti-Francis strategy. The journalists deny this.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Special Report: How courts help companies keep sexual misconduct under cover

A Goldman Sachs sign is seen above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S

By Dan Levine, Benjamin Lesser and Renee Dudley

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Cristina Chen-Oster, a senior salesperson in Goldman Sachs’s convertible bonds department, was a few years out of MIT when a male colleague pinned her against a wall, kissed her, groped her and tried to engage in a sexual act, she said in a lawsuit in federal court. After reporting the incident to her boss, the lawsuit alleged, she missed out on pay and promotions while her accused attacker steadily rose through the ranks.

Cathy Sellars at her home in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, U.S. December 21, 2017.

Cathy Sellars at her home in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, U.S. December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Michael Spooneybarger

Cathy Sellars, a 59-year-old mother of two adult children, was training to become a truck driver for freight hauler CRST when she complained to her bosses about repeated sexual harassment by male colleagues, according to a class action lawsuit against the company. Her complaints ignored, she says in court records, she eventually found herself in a truck cab with a male driver who pulled a knife on her after she rebuffed his sexual advances. He then refused to allow her to exit the truck during a trip through the southwest and held her for several hours, she sai

And Sebastian Kelly, a gay driver for an ambulance company in Alabama, said in a lawsuit that he worked in a sexually charged atmosphere, where two male co-workers routinely exposed their genitalia.

News headlines of late have focused on sexual harassment accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, former Today show anchor Matt Lauer, former U.S. Senator Al Franken and other media figures, entertainers and politicians. In each case, the accusers say they waited years to confront the men who accosted them, most of them too ashamed or fearful to complain publicly or persuaded to keep quiet by tactics meant to suppress the truth.

But these three plaintiffs, and many like them, chose to confront their alleged abusers and hold the companies they work for accountable in public court. Rather than opening the incidents to full public scrutiny, however, judges let companies push the legal boundaries of what should be considered confidential and to keep details of abusive behavior secret.

A Reuters review of federal court cases filed between 2006 and 2016 revealed hundreds containing sexual harassment allegations where companies used common civil litigation tactics to keep potentially damning information under wraps. Plaintiffs in some cases say companies sought to conceal internal documents that reveal similar harassment claims, as well as corporate policies that favored abusers over victims.

In one case, plaintiff lawyers collected secret evidence about alleged criminal behavior, including details of a pharmaceutical saleswoman who alleged a doctor sexually assaulted her at a work-related event. Her supervisor admitted to giving a sheriff’s detective false information about the allegations, court records show.


The true number of such cases is likely much greater than the hundreds identified by Reuters. Federal courts categorize sexual harassment within a larger group of gender discrimination claims, which makes a full accounting difficult. In addition, many sexual harassment cases are filed in state courts. Reuters focused its review on the federal courts because records are more accessible and consistent.

As a result of the sealed documents, cases that could shine light on specific abusers, or on toxic corporate cultures, do the opposite: They enable the very secrecy and corporate complicity that allow sexual harassment to persist in the workplace.

Shira Scheindlin, a former Manhattan federal judge, said judges should make public human-resources complaints that result in employee discipline.


Shira Scheindlin, a former Manhattan federal judge, poses for a portrait at her firm's office in New York City, U.S., January 8, 2018. Picture taken January 8, 2018.

Shira Scheindlin, a former Manhattan federal judge, poses for a portrait at her firm’s office in New York City, U.S., January 8, 2018. Picture taken January 8, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

“Otherwise, you get the serial abuser just doing it at the next job,” said Scheindlin, who currently heads the American Bar Association’s federal courts subcommittee and whose private practice includes advising companies on handling sexual harassment complaints. “If that record had been available, there would have been no next job.”

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said courts are going too far in routinely sealing such cases. Documents filed in federal court are presumed to be public, he said, so people can understand how the judiciary works. Companies should not be allowed to cloak evidence just because it is damaging, said the judge, based in San Francisco. That goes not only for sexual harassment but also for broader corporate governance issues.

“It’s hard to see why their private interests to avoid embarrassment trumps the public’s right to have access to litigation,” Breyer said.

Companies say they have good reason to seek broad protective orders. They frequently argue that their internal documents contain unproven allegations that shouldn’t be public, or sensitive business information that could aid a competitor. Plaintiff attorneys say they often agree to protective orders and motions to seal information from public disclosure because fighting over public access can increase the length and cost of a lawsuit.

Many judges, meanwhile, are reluctant to enforce transparency when neither side has requested it, according to several current and former federal judges.

“I don’t think any judge is presumptively hostile to the idea of disclosure,” Breyer said. “We may be presumptively hostile to doing more work. I’m speaking for myself.”

Most civil cases settle before they can be publicly aired before a jury. That means the pre-trial secrecy allows companies to permanently conceal information about their sexual harassment policies and how they respond to specific complaints of abuse.

A broad protective order in the ongoing lawsuit by Chen-Oster and three other women against Goldman has allowed the Wall Street giant to keep hundreds of documents under wraps for three years.

Asked about the secrecy, a Goldman spokesperson told Reuters the firm keeps details private because it promises employees confidentiality when they report concerns. The spokesperson would not discuss the specific allegations raised by Chen-Oster and the other plaintiffs.

In court documents, the company acknowledges that Chen-Oster told her boss about the contact with her co-worker and that the supervisor contacted Goldman’s human resources department about it. Chen-Oster, the company says in court filings, did not want to pursue a human resources complaint.

The protective order permitted lawyers on either side to mark any document exchanged in discovery as confidential, thus barring anyone from disclosing it outside the case. Such orders have become standard to ensure secrecy during the pre-trial evidence discovery phase in U.S. civil litigation.

There are no nationwide standards on what information should be sealed when discovery documents are later filed in court. Several federal appeals courts recognize that trade secrets, sensitive financial data, or personal information like Social Security Numbers can remain secret. When it comes to allegations of misconduct, some case law allows information that would intrude on an individual’s privacy to be kept secret. But it is left to judges to decide if someone’s privacy outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure.

Initially, Chen-Oster’s lawyers agreed to the protective order, but later, when they sought to broaden the case, they took the rare step of arguing that many documents filed in court should be made public.

Adam Klein, one of her lawyers, said plaintiff attorneys usually agree to protective orders to gain access to company documents in the first place.

“It’s balancing the interest of the client to get information with the public’s right to know,” Klein said. In Chen-Oster’s case, Klein said, they later pushed to unseal documents in part so that more women working at Goldman who could join the lawsuit would know the details.

The lawyers asked then-U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis IV in Manhattan to certify the lawsuit as a class action to address pay and promotions lost to gender discrimination at Goldman. To support their request, they filed, under seal, nearly 300 internal Goldman documents the company had given them during discovery. Some of those documents, the lawyers alleged, showed that Goldman rewarded men who engaged in sexual misconduct. Because Goldman had asserted confidentiality during discovery, Chen-Oster’s lawyers had to file those documents in secret.

The plaintiffs also secretly filed a chart that logged gender discrimination complaints Goldman female employees made to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


The plaintiffs’ first request in 2014 to unseal is itself not public, nor is Goldman’s response. Francis sided with Goldman – though his reasoning is unknown because he also sealed the ruling from disclosure on the public court docket.

In a subsequent filing, Chen-Oster’s lawyers argued that details about Goldman HR investigations should be made public, at least without revealing employee names, because they did not contain the type of trade secrets that legal precedent allows companies to keep confidential.

In response, Goldman attorneys argued the documents should remain secret, arguing many contained hearsay and violated the privacy of people who aren’t parties to the suit. The material had been “selectively culled” from Goldman’s internal personnel files to “sensationalize this proceeding,” Goldman’s lawyers said.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan reaffirmed Francis’s ruling in 2017, saying the sealed materials “include sensitive content about identifiable non-parties.” Because of that, Torres ruled, the plaintiffs’ request to make the material public should wait until after a judge decides whether to let the case proceed as a class action.

That legal question has now been pending for more than three years.

Torres declined to comment. Francis, who recently left the bench, also declined to comment on the Goldman case. But in general, he said, judges often wait to wade into secrecy issues until after they know what evidence will be important in their rulings. That way they have a roadmap to decide which secret court filings are most relevant to the public, he said.

“Making a decision later with more information may be better,” Francis said. “But later may be much later, and that’s problematic.”

Goldman says in court filings that it takes harassment seriously. Out of 12 human-resources cases highlighted by Chen-Oster’s lawyers, Goldman said it had fired five subjects of those complaints and disciplined five. The identities of those employees, however, are not public, leaving other companies unaware of the abusers’ histories.

Chen-Oster and one other plaintiff declined to talk for this article, and the others did not respond to Reuters’ efforts to reach them.


In some cases, companies have persuaded judges to require plaintiffs to keep secret the alleged abusers named in lawsuits, before discovery even begins.

The 2011 claim filed by Sebastian Kelly against his former employer, Regional Paramedical Services Inc of Jasper, Alabama, described a hyper-sexualized environment in which his colleagues allegedly exposed their genitalia regularly and discussed sex in graphic terms. He described one instance in which a colleague told Kelly that he “can’t be gay, you like titties too much.”

That employee’s name, and several others, were blacked out in Kelly’s complaint on the order of Judge James Hancock of the Northern District of Alabama. Hancock ruled that all names of employees who weren’t in supervisory roles, including the human resources director, must be kept secret.

Hancock wrote that allegations against non-supervisory employees are “embarrassing” and that the public’s right to access court records was outweighed by the privacy interests of the employees.

In July 2012, both parties asked the judge to dismiss the case after reaching an out-of-court settlement; the terms weren’t disclosed.

A company spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment. The company denies Kelly’s allegations in court documents. Kelly would not disclose the terms of the settlement.

Because the case did not go to trial, the identities of the accused remain blacked out in Kelly’s lawsuit. The accused are named openly, however, in a complaint Kelly filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Kelly’s lawyers filed the document after Hancock ordered them to submit the EEOC records. Anyone reviewing the filing would find the names of the accused men.

Hancock, who has retired, could not be reached to explain why he did not order the names to be blacked out when the lawyers filed the EEOC complaint.


In the case against CRST Expedited Inc., a large trucking company, secret court filings were compelling enough to persuade Judge Leonard Strand that plaintiffs had grounds to mount a class action alleging widespread systemic abuse against female employees. Yet even with the class certification, the judge continues to keep important details under wraps.

The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, centers on the complaints of three women, including Cathy Sellars, the 59-year-old who says she was held at knifepoint after rejecting a coworker’s sexual advances. She said she complained about harassment to her superiors and the human resources department. When she contacted human resources to check on the status of her complaints, she says in her lawsuit, she was told that information was “none of my business.”

After Sellars and the other plaintiffs took CRST to court, their attorneys sought information from the company about how it handled sexual harassment complaints, and how many had been filed. The plaintiffs eventually obtained much of that information.

However, the broad protective order adopted at the beginning of the case – agreed to by both the plaintiffs and the defendants – barred anyone from disclosing that information. The order also forced the plaintiffs to file secretly their motion asking the court for class certification. As a result, all of their allegations of widespread abuse at CRST remained confidential.

Judge Strand granted the plaintiffs’ bid for a class action. In that March order, Strand disclosed some of the sealed material, including the number of female employees – 106 – filing sexual harassment complaints with CRST between October 2013 and February 2016.

But the documents he cited – along with the entire motion he ruled on – still remain under seal.

“The public has a right to know about the gravity of harm in cases like this,” said Giselle Schuetz, an attorney for Sellars. She said she agreed to the sealing, however, because she couldn’t afford to delay the case.

The litigation is pending, and CRST attorney Kevin Visser said he could not discuss the case or any of the specific allegations as a result. The company denied Sellars’ allegations in court documents. Strand did not respond to requests for comment.


Plaintiff attorneys say secrecy orders tie their hands even when apparent criminal acts are uncovered during the pre-trial exchange of information, such as evidence that women were sexually assaulted while doing their jobs.

In one gender discrimination claim that went to trial eight years ago, Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis attempted to keep secret evidence that one of its managers had given false information to a sheriff’s detective investigating a sexual assault complaint, court records show.

That attempt came to light when the manager testified during a deposition with the plaintiff’s attorneys before the trial. The attorneys could not disclose the revelation to law enforcement authorities without seeking permission from the company or the judge because the deposition was required to be kept secret under the terms of the protective order.

Novartis tried to keep the details under wraps as the case went to trial. The company’s lawyers argued that the alleged sexual assault and the criminal investigation were irrelevant and would prejudice the jury because the details were “unusually graphic and offensive to any reasonable person.”

The judge rejected that argument, so in April 2010, Novartis sales rep Marjorie Salame told the jury that she was sexually assaulted by a doctor at a work-related golf event.

Salame testified that she had considered herself on a management track and enjoyed a good relationship with her boss when she headed to a country club near Tampa, Florida, in May 2002. At the end of the night, Salame said at an earlier deposition, Dr. Edwin Colon got her alone, lifted her skirt and penetrated her with his fingers.

The next day, Salame told her manager, Joseph Simmons, what had happened. Simmons told the jury he also received a phone call from Colon, who was apologetic but denied culpability, saying he had been drinking. The doctor said the sexual contact with Salame had been consensual, Simmons testified.

Colon declined to discuss the case with Reuters. Simmons also declined to comment.

Salame reported the incident to the sheriff’s office, and investigators interviewed Simmons. The Novartis manager told a detective that the doctor had not said he had been drinking and that Novartis was not investigating the matter, court records state. In fact, Simmons later testified, a human resources employee at Novartis was looking into the complaint, a fact he knew when he talked with the detective.

Salame’s ex-manager testified both in the pre-trial deposition and during the jury trial that he had misinformed the detective about what Colon told him and about Novartis investigating the complaint, though he told the jury he had not deliberately lied.

The doctor was not charged with a crime.

Had Salame’s lawyers wanted to tell law enforcement authorities about Simmons’ pre-trial revelation, they would have had to go through an elaborate process with Novartis and the judge. Nothing on the court docket shows they did so. Katherine Kimpel, who represented Salame and other women against Novartis, declined to comment.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, co-sponsored legislation in 2014 that would have allowed victims to disclose evidence obtained in civil litigation to law enforcement, if it impacts public health or safety. The bill died in committee.

Broad protective orders and motions to seal, Blumenthal said, can often conceal evidence of criminal behavior, allowing abusers to prey on unsuspecting women.

“The present practice sends her on a trail where all of the warning signs about the dangers have been removed, and she’s there vulnerable and alone,” he said.

Salame told Reuters she was too overwhelmed to pursue the matter involving her supervisor after learning he had misled investigators. She did file a civil lawsuit against the doctor, who denied her allegations. Three years ago, both sides agreed to a settlement.

The manager’s testimony was the first time Salame learned what he had done. “It took eight years for it to come out and vindicate me,” Salame said in an interview.

Few sexual harassment cases reach trial, making the Novartis case – and the details disclosed during public testimony – unusual.

The 2010 trial generated weeks of testimony – and headlines – about how the company treated women. The jury eventually ordered Novartis to pay $250 million in punitive damages in the class action. The company later decided to settle the case and pay about $153 million to class members, rather than appeal the jury verdict.

A Novartis spokesman declined to discuss the case with Reuters.

As part of the resolution of the case, the company agreed to internal reforms, including annual training on a new sexual harassment policy and new measures for tracking and investigating complaints. On pay, it agreed to analyze gender discrepancies and to share the results of that analysis with the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

More than three years later, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon congratulated Novartis for successfully complying with the reforms.

Yet even in a case with such transparency, the openness had its limits. The details of Novartis’s compliance efforts were not filed on the court docket and remain secret.

(Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco, Benjamin Lesser in New York and Renee Dudley in Boston. Edited by Janet Roberts.)