Additional reporting by With additional reporting by Katie Honan
The veteran Manhattan judge who oversaw Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial won’t be on the bench for much longer.
That’s because Mayor Eric Adams’ Mayoral Advisory Committee on the Judiciary (MACJ) has declined to recommend him for reappointment — even though he’s been at the job for more than 20 years.
Manhattan Criminal Court Judge James Burke’s term was up at the end of 2022, and he re-applied for the position earlier this year. But last week MACJ notified Burke that it would not advance his application.
Burke did not return messages left at his office. The Mayor’s Office declined to release the letter notifying the judge of the decision.
In March 2020, Burke sentenced Weinstein to 23 years in prison. The conviction was upheld by the appellate division and is now pending before the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
Burke’s actions during the high-profile trial enraged a close friend of Frank Carone, Mayor Adams’ chief of staff. Carone, who plans to resign his post at year-end, is directly involved in the process for reappointing judges.
Weinstein was represented in his trial by, among others, criminal defense attorney Arthur Aidala, a close friend of Carone’s. During the trial, Aidala repeatedly grew angry at Burke, who was overseeing the proceedings in his role as acting Supreme Court judge.
At one point, Aidala formally demanded that Burke recuse himself from the case, publicly accusing him of making “inflammatory” comments that prejudiced the jury. Burke quickly denied Aidala’s request, and a jury ultimately convicted Weinstein of comiting a first-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape.
Aidala did not respond to THE CITY’s request for comment.
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Carone is directly involved in saying which judges get reappointed and which judges don’t. He sits on the executive committee that decides judicial appointments based on the recommendations of MACJ.
Carone’s schedule includes a Jan. 27 meeting on “MACJ committee appointments” and an in-person meeting on MACJ “process” on April 20 with Desiree Kim, executive director of MACJ.
A day after that meeting on April 21, Mayor Adams publicly announced the new MACJ appointees, including RoseAnn Branda, a partner at Carone’s former law firm, Abrams Fensterman.
Maxwell Young, a spokesperson for Mayor Adams, said Burke’s reappointment request did not come before Carrone because the mayor’s advisory committee did not recommend him for re-appointment.
“Mr. Carone has had absolutely no input — formal or informal, directly or through surrogates — on Judge Burke’s potential reappointment, and neither has City Hall staff or other members of the Executive Committee,” Young wrote in response to THE CITY’s emailed questions.
Carone’s official schedule also states he met with Aidala on June 22. Young said Carone did not discuss Burke’s reappointment during that meeting, but did not say whether the two had discussed the matter on any other occasion.
Aidala is a high-profile criminal defense attorney who also hosts a podcast called the Power Hour that’s brought in both Mayor Adams and Carone as guests. During an Oct. 6 show featuring the mayor, Aidala effusively praised both the mayor and Carone.
“No one’s got your back in it and is singing that song louder than I am. So I’m with you Mr. Mayor, 100%,” Aidala told Adams, also referring to “my dear friend Frank Carone.”
Aidala has also done work for the Kings County Democratic Committee, which Carrone has for years served as legal counsel. In 2013 and 2015 he did about $4,800 worth of legal work paid for by the committee’s housekeeping account, campaign finance records show.
A source familiar with the judicial appointment process said the judges “aren’t happy about this. [Burke] is a well liked and respected judge. To put a professional hit out on him, that doesn’t please them.” The source noted that if the Weinstein case is reversed by the Court of Appeals, it would be sent back to the Manhattan district attorney to try again.
And this time Burke would not be the judge.
Burke, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney, was first appointed to Manhattan Criminal Court by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2002. He was twice reappointed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with his current 10-year term set to expire at the end of this year.
He’s handled many high-profile cases in his years on the bench, but none received as much attention as the trial of the disgraced movie producer Weinstein.
As the trial unfolded in a downtown Manhattan courtroom, tensions emerged almost immediately between the judge and Weinstein’s legal team.
By day three of the trial, after Burke had admonished Weinstein for using his cell phone in court, Weinstein’s lawyer, Aidala, openly questioned the judge’s ethics.
Aidala filed a letter demanding that Burke recuse himself further from the case, Aidala argued that the judge’s comments “created a situation in which the Court’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned in violation of New York State’s Rule of Judicial Conduct.”
Burke immediately slapped down Aidala’s request, stating, “I have in no way prejudged this case.” He continued overseeing the case through the conviction of Weinstein and his sentencing.
Weinstein is currently serving out that New York sentence as he awaits the Court of Appeals decision. Two weeks ago he faced a second set of sexual assault charges in Los Angeles. Opening statements began there on Oct. 24.