Harvey Weinstein: first day of sexual crimes trial erupts as lawyers trade insults | Film


The rape trial of the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein began on Monday in Manhattan and immediately erupted into furious name-calling between lawyers, who decried each other’s behaviour as “abominable”, “degrading” and “humiliating”.

It was a sign of the high stakes in a trial that marks the next chapter in the #MeToo movement triggered by allegations of sexual misconduct by the movie producer two years ago.

Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to five counts that include raping a woman in 2013 and forcing another woman to engage in oral sexual conduct in 2006. The most serious charge is predatory sexual assault, carrying a maximum sentence of life.

Even as the trial was cranking into gear in New York, Weinstein’s legal problems multiplied with the announcement that prosecutors in Los Angeles had brought their own criminal charges against him. He was charged with raping one woman and sexually assaulting another in an alleged two-day spree in February 2013.

Though it was well known that LA prosecutors were investigating, the charges still sent shockwaves across the country.

In Manhattan, a group of accusers including the actors Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette stared as Weinstein got out of his car. Some held signs that said “Justice for survivors”. Surrounded by his legal team, hunched over a gray metal walker, Weinstein hurried into the building.

Inside, the movie producer sat 10ft from Gloria Allred, the campaigning attorney who represents two women who will testify. The pair did not make eye contact.

The trial’s cast is drawn from Hollywood’s high table. More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, the actors Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow among them.

But the case is also of intimate importance to all who have endured sexual harassment in the workplace. For them, the movement triggered by the Weinstein revelations in October 2017 has become a driving force for change.

For Weinstein, the stakes could not be higher. Last month a $25m settlement was reached involving more than 30 women. To the dismay of some, the deal did not touch Weinstein’s own money or require him to admit guilt.

In New York, to secure a guilty verdict on the charge of predatory sexual assault, prosecutors will have to convince the jury the producer engaged in a pattern of sexual crimes over time.

The judge, James Burke, has indicated he will allow three other women to testify including Sopranos actor Annabella Sciorra, who alleges Weinstein sexually assaulted her in 1993. Though that incident is beyond the statute of limitations, it can be presented as evidence of alleged predatory behaviour.

On Monday, the hearing erupted in dispute, lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon accusing Weinstein’s attorneys of “abominable” behaviour which “degraded and humiliated” the accusers.

“In the last 72 hours it has been in our opinion abominable to talk about evidence, to talk about sealed discovery in public, to talk about witnesses in a humiliating way,” Illuzzi-Orbon said.

She pointed to a conversation in which one of Weinstein’s legal team cast aspersions on an accuser. “If you say things like, ‘She’s a good actress, I’m sure she will come off well, she’s performing, or that she’s lying, or that it was a loving intimate relationship …’”

The prosecutor said evidence would be presented that would discount any claim of intimacy between Weinstein and his alleged victims.

The judge turned to one of Weinstein’s lawyers and said: “So what did you do, Miss Rotunno?”

Donna Rotunno said: “I did nothing improper. I have been professional, I have been respectful and I have done my job.”

Burke issued an edict to both parties: “Leave the witnesses alone. Do not talk about them in any capacity.”

The issue of how the women who will testify have been treated also came up in regard to Black Cube, a corporate intelligence company run largely by former officers of Israeli intelligence. The New Yorker journalist Ronan Farrow revealed that Weinstein employed Black Cube to make contact with accusers as a way of extracting information.

The prosecutor requested the court to order Weinstein’s lawyers to tell the jury Black Cube contacted witnesses.

The prosecution also revealed that they wished to present the jury with photographs relating to one accuser. There are 72, they said, though they intend to admit seven.

“We have minimalised any undue prejudices” in the images, Illuzzi-Orbon said. “We do feel the they are very, very important for the jury to see.”

The judge reserved his ruling.

Weinstein’s team protested that they were not being given sufficient evidentiary material. In particular they protested that medical records of one of the accusers, including notes of a visit to a hospital emergency room, were heavily redacted.

A Weinstein attorney said: “The state says this is a sensitive matter for the complaining witnesses – no doubt. But it is also a sensitive matter for Mr Weinstein. It affects his ability to defend himself.”

The case was adjourned until Tuesday, when jury selection begins. That is expected to take up to two weeks.

The actor Rose McGowan speaks at a news conference outside the courthouse after the arrival of Weinstein.



The actor Rose McGowan speaks at a news conference outside the courthouse after the arrival of Weinstein. Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP

Outside, the accusers who call themselves the “silence breakers” spoke to reporters. McGowan read an open letter to Weinstein.

“You thought you could terrorise me and others into silence,” she said. “You were wrong. That we’ve come to this moment of justice is staggering. The trial means so much to so many.”

McGowan was joined by six other women, including Arquette, Lauren Sivan and Sarah Ann Masse. They responded to Weinstein’s comments to the New York Post in December, in which he lamented that his work “promoting women has been forgotten”.

“For every woman he put on the screen, he took out about a hundred behind the scenes,” McGowan said.

Masse noted that when Weinstein walked into court, “he wouldn’t look at us, he wouldn’t make eye contact. Nothing has changed. He’s a coward.” To Arquette, he looked like a “very broken man”.

McGowan added: “I think he has taken some good acting tips.”



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