Since Harvey Weinstein’s May 2018 arrest on sexual assault charges, the onetime movie mogul’s case has been marked by high-drama twists and turns. By July of last year, Weinstein was charged with six counts related to allegedly nonconsensual encounters with three women: Lucia Evans, Mimi Haleyi, and an accuser who remains unidentified. A few months later, however, one of these counts was tossed because of inconsistencies in an accuser’s story. More eyebrow-raising developments have come up as Weinstein’s case progressed. The judge overseeing this case made a controversial decision to kick press out of his courtroom during an important hearing on evidence. Weinstein’s legal team, meanwhile, has changed repeatedly amid reported disagreements with some of the high-powered lawyers on his legal team. And while Weinstein’s trial is still set for September, he just hired two new Chicago-based lawyers; one has been called “the busiest female attorney” in the U.S. who deals with men accused of sexual assault. Here are the key turning points in Weinstein’s legal saga so far.
Weinstein’s lawyers said important emails were kept under wraps.
Weinstein’s lawyers alleged that Manhattan prosecutors improperly kept information from the grand jury that could have proved his innocence — such as emails sent from an accuser to Weinstein. In an August 3 court filing, lawyer Benjamin Brafman (who has since left the case, more on that later) claimed Weinstein had a harmless relationship with one of the women accusing him of an assault in 2013. Brafman cited an email sent some four years later in which the woman allegedly wrote, “I love you, always do. But I hate feeling like a booty call. :).’”
“Although reflecting neither Mr. Weinstein’s words nor feelings, by using the term ‘booty call,’ the complaining witness appears to acknowledge the consensual, intimate nature of her relationship with Mr. Weinstein, “Brafman argued, “and perhaps, most importantly, signaled her desire for a fuller and more emotionally committed relationship. This evidence should not have been kept from the Grand Jury.”
Despite Weinstein’s lawyer’s claims, prosecutors insist the grand jury process was by the book.
Manhattan prosecutors submitted a filing on September 12 that claimed “the grand jury was properly instructed on the law, and that the integrity of the proceedings was unimpaired, and the People deny all allegations to the contrary.” They insisted that emails exchanged between an accuser and Weinstein were also handled properly, and that none of the emails show him denying the alleged rape.
“Rather, defendant claims that, at most, the emails could suggest a state of mind inconsistent with what defendant feels should be that of a rape victim,” they said. “Most importantly, a review of the Grand jury minutes in this case will reveal, the People presented evidence fairly and in a manner that was not misleading by providing a full and fair account of the relationship between defendant and the victim both before and after the charged rape.”
One count has already been thrown out.
Manhattan Supreme Court justice James Burke agreed during an October 11 proceeding to dismiss one of the sexual-assault counts against Harvey Weinstein relating to Lucia Evans, who alleged that Weinstein forced her into oral sex in the summer of 2004. Prosecutors disclosed a letter they had sent Brafman on alleged inconsistencies in Evans’s account. A witness told prosecutors she was with Evans at a Manhattan bar when Weinstein first came up to them. The witness said Weinstein promised them money “if they exposed their breasts to him.”
Evans later told the witness that she did so, and went to Weinstein’s office sometime after the restaurant. Evans said that Weinstein would “arrange for [her] to receive an acting job if she agreed to perform oral sex on him” and “according to the witness, [Evans] told her that she thereupon performed oral sex on the defendant.” The witness said she had given this information to NYPD Detective Nicholas DiGaudio in February. DiGaudio later admitted to prosecutors that he “failed to inform our office of the important details,” the letter said. Police have said DiGaudio is no longer on the case.
Detective DiGaudio also told an accuser she could get rid of her cell phones.
The Manhattan DA sent a letter to Weinstein’s lawyers on October 16 disclosing that DiGaudio told one of Weinstein’s accusers that she could delete information on her phone that she didn’t want prosecutors to see. Prosecutors had asked this woman to turn over any cell phones she might have used to communicate with Weinstein.The woman voiced concern that there might be private information on these phones.
DiGaudio allegedly responded by saying she “should delete anything she did not want anyone to see before providing the phones to our office,” the woman claimed. DiGaudio then said to her “we just won’t tell Joan,” referring to lead Weinstein prosecutor Joan Illuzzi. The woman did not erase anything from her phone and hired a lawyer who then contacted prosecutors to disclose “certain information” on DiGaudio, the letter said.
She ultimately turned the phones over to prosecutors as requested, “without any deletions,” Illuzzi said. The woman insisted that neither DiGaudio nor “anyone else influenced her testimony or any evidence she provided.”
There were more emails allegedly hidden from Weinstein’s defense team.
A November 5 court filing by Brafman claimed that DiGaudio’s “misconduct” had “infected this case” irreparably. “The District Attorney has to date acknowledged at least two instances where Detective DiGaudio’s misconduct has infected this case, one with Lucia Evans and one with [unnamed accuser],” the filing said. “Counsel has reason to believe that Detective DiGaudio committed misconduct with Mimi Haleyi as well.”
Haleyi “continued to communicate with Mr. Weinstein after the alleged July 2006 assault,” Weinstein’s lawyers continued. “For example, on February 12 2007 — more than seven months after the alleged incident — Mimi Haleyi texted Mr. Weinstein’s phone with the following message: ‘Hi! Just wondering if u have any news on whether Harvey will have time to see me before he leaves? X Miriam.’”
Brafman’s filing said it was unclear whether prosecutors were aware of Haleyi’s “continued communications with Mr. Weinstein” and improperly kept this from the grand jury — or whether DiGaudio “purposefully hid” them.
Prosecutors blamed Weinstein’s lawyers for creating a “public circus.”
Manhattan prosecutors chided Brafman for the spate of increasingly attention-grabbing motions, claiming in a November 19 filing that he wanted to turn the proceedings into a “public circus” by calling for a public hearing on allegations of police misconduct. Prosecutors doubled down on their position that the grand jury “was properly instructed on the law” and that “the integrity of the proceedings was unimpaired” in yet another response filing.
“The only reason the defendant wants a hearing is to provide a public circus that will further the public relations campaign the defendant has been waging since the outset of his case,” prosecutors argued. Despite discrepancies in Evans’s account, prosecutors said, there isn’t proof that she lied. “At most, it creates an issue of fact as to the credibility of the complaining witness. Such testimony is simply not the type of evidence that impairs the integrity of the Grand Jury process,” they said.
Weinstein’s lawyers said media pressure led to a flimsy case.
Weinstein’s lawyers railed in a November 30 filing that bad press effectively forced prosecutors’ hand in charging him. “We submit, that Harvey Weinstein, a man vilified by a vicious media assault[,] caused a case that was never critically examined or investigated, the falsity of the serious allegations being made as more fully discussed below were forced on the District Attorney by, a collective media that unfortunately placed unprecedented pressure on the District Attorney’s Office and the Police Department to prosecute Mr. Weinstein,” Brafman wrote in a court filing.
“This public, humiliating and highly political action, counsel submits, was intended to further and unfairly push the District Attorney’s Office into prosecuting Mr. Weinstein without first appropriately and fully investigating the credibility of the claims being made by the alleged victims.”
An accuser allegedly tried to “enlist” a friend to back her story.
Brafman claimed in a December 7 filing that one of Weinstein’s accusers met him at a movie premiere “hours” after the alleged attack. This woman had accused Weinstein of raping her on March 18, 2013, and she is referred to in court papers as “CW-1.” Brafman claimed that she went to a film screening where Weinstein was present later that night. Brafman alluded to emails sent “mere hours” after the alleged attack, in which Weinstein’s assistant asks CW-1’s friend to this showing. This unidentified friend — whom prosecutors say CW-1 “recently tried to enlist” to corroborate her rape charge — replied, saying she would attend with CW-1. The friend allegedly told Brafman they attended the premiere and saw Weinstein there.
The friend also claimed to have disclosed info about the screening to “two separate teams of NYPD detectives … more than a year ago” when they questioned her about CW-1’s allegations. Brafman also claims that CW-1 never mentioned an alleged attack to her friend until relatively recently — and then tried to get her to back the accusations.
“CW-1 attempted to use this [friend] as a fabricated prompt outcry witness years after the alleged rape,” Brafman claimed.
Prosecutors filed a response shortly thereafter saying these equated to “attempts to manufacture exculpatory information.” “Again, when read in conjunction with the grand jury minutes, this is not exculpatory information,” they said. “That the defendant has a misguided and antiquated view of how a rape victim should react after having been assaulted does not change this reality.”
Weinstein hired Rose McGowan’s former lawyers.
After a court proceeding in early January, an ever-confident Brafman told reporters: “We intend to vigorously defend this case to the best of our ability.” Less than two weeks later, however, Brafman said he was leaving the case. Brafman’s decision came amid rumors that he and Weinstein weren’t getting along, as well as an Esquire profile in which the lawyer reportedly said, “I take the abuse better than most.”
Weinstein then hired lawyers Jose Baez and Harvard Law professor Ronald S. Sullivan. While the legal eagles had worked on a number of high-profile cases, Baez and Sullivan notably defended one of Weinstein’s accusers, Rose McGowan, in a drug case. McGowan had previously said that Weinstein might have been involved in that prosecution. About one month after this legal shake-up, Weinstein’s trial date was pushed from May 6 to June 3.
A judge kicked reporters out of the courtroom.
On April 26, Burke booted media and members of the public from his courtroom during an important proceeding on evidence that might come up during Weinstein’s trial. This other evidence might have included other allegations of misconduct against Weinstein. Both prosecutors and Weinstein’s defense team had asked Burke to close the courtroom during this discussion of evidence.
In arguing for courtroom closure, one of Weinstein’s lawyers complained, “We do know, however, that the media has every intention of releasing the information in real time before the court even renders a position … We believe the information will be sent out to the public in real time over Twitter.”
Multiple media organizations, including Vulture, fought courtroom closure.
In issuing his decision, Burke said “all court proceedings, including hearings, are presumptively open to the public and press … however, this right of access is not absolute,” and that closing the courtroom could stave off an unfair trial.
“This court has considered [that] the celebrity status of the defendant has generated intense media scrutiny and an enormous amount of pretrial publicity,” Burke also said. “Clearly, the publication of this information at this time would serve no purpose other than to arouse negative public sentiment toward the defendant.”
A settlement was proposed for some Weinstein accusers.
In May, it was revealed that Weinstein, the board of his former company, and some of his accusers, had tentatively reached a $44 million settlement. (The proposed settlement, relates to civil litigation against Weinstein, so it’s separate from his criminal case.) Shortly after the proposed settlement came to light, it became clear that the deal wouldn’t cover all accusers — with some saying that they wanted nothing to do with it.
Actress Ashley Judd, for example, tweeted: “My lawsuit against #harveyweinstein is ongoing and I intend to take him to trial.” Several weeks later, lawyers for some Weinstein accusers said they were still optimistic about a civil settlement.
Weinstein hired new lawyers, again.
Following a recent report that Baez wanted off Weinstein’s defense team, court documents revealed that the disgraced Hollywood honcho hired two Chicago-based attorneys: Donna Rotunno and Damon Cheronis.
In a filing dated June 24, Rotunno said, “Please be advised that I have been retained to represent the defendant in the above-entitled action.” On another page, Rotunno says she “understand[s] that the September 9, 2019 trial date is non-negotiable. I submit to the Court that I shall be ready for trial.”
Rotunno is known for having “specialized in cases involving men accused of sexual assault” and is “by one estimate … the busiest female attorney in this particular niche in the country,” according to Chicago magazine.
“Any high-profile sex case you hear on the news in Chicago, odds are I’ve gotten a phone call,” Rotunno reportedly said.
Cheronis echoed Rotunno’s words in his filing.
During a July 11 court proceeding, Justice James Burke green-lit Baez’s departure.