Harvey Weinstein sex charges: Court battle enters a new phase

The former film mogul, facing a landmark trial, has recruited a tough new legal team

As the great and the good of the film world gathered in the mountain town of Park City in Utah late last month for the Sundance Film Festival there was one person on everybody's mind.

Harvey Weinstein, the movie producer who is facing widespread sexual assault allegations, may not have been in attendance, but his presence was undeniable.

Untouchable, a new documentary about the Weinstein scandal directed by Ursula Macfarlane, premiered at the festival. In the feature-length documentary, a dozen women document their experience of the movie mogul during his years at the helm of Miramax films.

The film’s debut at one of America’s most acclaimed festivals is deeply ironic. Sundance was where Miramax, a film venture of Weinstein and his brother Bob, began to flourish, after they took a punt on Steven Soderbergh’s indie film Sex, Lies, and Videotape, which won the audience award in 1989.


Even a few false statements from Mr Weinstein could destroy potentially career-changing professional opportunities

As Miramax grew into one of the most successful independent film companies in history, Weinstein became a regular fixture at the annual festival in rural Utah.

It is also where actor Rose McGowan, one of the first high-profile women to accuse Weinstein of assault, says she was raped by him 20 years ago, in his hotel suite after a screening of one of his films in which she starred, a charge he denies.

Weinstein’s fall from grace at Sundance epitomises the changing fortunes of a man who was once one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood. He has also become a symbol of the #MeToo movement, a cause that has shone a light on the culture of sexual harassment and its implications for the power dynamics of the workplace.

A married father of five, Harvey Weinstein’s alleged behaviour first came to light in a New York Times article in October 2017. The article detailed allegations of sexual assault made by prominent female actors, and found evidence of allegations “stretching over nearly three decades” based on interviews with Miramax employees, emails and internal documents.

The article claimed that Weinstein had reached at least eight settlements with women.

The accused gave a statement to the paper in which he “sincerely apologised” for his behaviour in the past, and said he was working with therapists.

A follow-up article in the New Yorker within a week contained allegations from 13 more women. As the allegations built up, the board of Miramax moved to remove Weinstein, while his wife, the British designer Georgina Chapman, announced she was leaving her husband of 10 years.

More and more women began to come forward with stories, including prominent actors such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie. One by one, organisations such as Bafta and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences moved to expel Weinstein. The Producers Guild of America banned Weinstein for life.

Judd allegations

One of Weinstein's most vocal accusers has been Ashley Judd. The 50-year-old actor was one of the first to speak out against Weinstein. She first made allegations that she had been abused by a studio mogul in an interview with Variety magazine in 2015.

Two years later she said the man in question was Weinstein. She alleges she was sexually harassed by him during the filming of the 1997 film Kiss the Girls after he invited her to a business meeting at a Beverley Hills hotel.

In April last year Judd filed a sexual harassment and defamation lawsuit against Weinstein.

In her lawsuit she cites comments by film director Peter Jackson in late 2017, when he said that he had not cast Judd in his Lord of the Rings trilogy because of comments Weinstein had made about her lack of professionalism.

“As my experience and the experience of others shows, even a few false statements from Mr Weinstein could destroy potentially career-changing professional opportunities,” the lawsuit states. “It’s time that Mr Weinstein be held accountable for that conduct and for the ways in which he’s damaged careers.”

Weinstein’s lawyers hit back against the claim, stating at the time of the lawsuit: “The most basic investigation of the facts will reveal that Mr Weinstein neither defamed Ms Judd nor ever interfered with Ms Judd’s career, and instead not only championed her work but also repeatedly approved her casting for two of his movies over the next decade.”

In a setback for Judd, a court in California last month dismissed her harassment case against Weinstein, claiming that a law related to professional misconduct could not be applied retrospectively to Judd's case.

The judge ruled that she could still pursue the defamation claim, however.

In total, more than 80 women have come forward accusing Weinstein of offences from rape to sexual harassment. His prosecution, however, is centred around a criminal case taken against him in New York.

Weinstein continues to vigorously defend his innocence, claiming that any sexual encounters were consensual

The movie producer is facing five felony charges there relating to two women, after a sixth charge relating to a third woman was dismissed in October last year.

The dismissal followed information that a witness had been advised by a police officer to suppress her doubts over whether an alleged sexual encounter with Weinstein was not consensual. The same policeman was also accused of urging one of Weinstein’s accusers to delete material from her phones before handing them over to prosecutors.

Nevertheless, the charges relating to two women still stand.

Weinstein is accused of raping a woman in a New York hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on another woman at his Manhattan apartment in 2006. Separately, cases are under way in Britain over alleged incidents dating back from the late 1980s.

Legal difficulties

Weinstein continues to vigorously defend his innocence, claiming that any sexual encounters were consensual. But the mogul is having legal difficulties of his own.

In a surprise development, last month Benjamin Brafman, the prominent defence lawyer representing Weinstein, parted ways with his client.

Brafman previously – and successfully – represented Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF chief who saw charges of sexual assault against him dropped in 2011.

Weinstein's new legal team includes prominent female lawyer Pamela Robillard Mackey, who defended basketball player Kobe Bryant on rape charges in 2003.

Jose Baez, another senior lawyer on the case, successfully defended Casey Anthony, who was on trial for murdering her two-year-old daughter in Florida. He went on to defend football player Aaron Hernandez, who was acquitted on a double-murder charge, though he took his own life days later.

In his first comments after his appointment to Weinstein’s legal team, Baez said that his client was innocent. “This case is testing the presumption of innocence in our country . . . he should be entitled to the same presumption as everyone else.”

With Weinstein continuing to deny the felony charges against him, he is due back in court for a pre-trial hearing on March 7th. The Manhattan trial is due to begin in May.

He could face life in prison if convicted. Since his indictment Weinstein has been ordered to remain in New York and Connecticut on a $1 million bail and to wear an ankle tracking device.

Whatever the outcome of the trial, it is a stunning fall from grace for one of Hollywood’s biggest names, and a telling reminder of the power of the #MeToo movement to hold those accused of sexual misconduct to account.