NEW YORK – Harvey Weinstein, who is awaiting trial on sexual assault charges, has been “railroaded” because of public pressure arising from the #MeToo movement, a member of the disgraced Hollywood mogul’s new legal team said on Thursday.
“Movements allow emotion to take over,” Donna Rotunno told reporters after a hearing where New York Supreme Court Judge James Burke approved Weinstein’s application to replace his defense team for the second time since the case started.
Rotunno and Damon Cheronis are stepping in for Ronald Sullivan and Jose Baez, described by Weinstein when he first hired them as a “dream team.”
Sullivan, who teaches at Harvard Law School, decided not to represent Weinstein after coming under intense criticism from students, faculty and influential alumni for taking the case.
Baez, for his part, wrote to Judge Burke last month asking to be permitted to withdraw because of the breakdown of his working relationship with his client.
“Mr. Weinstein has engaged in behavior that makes this representation unreasonably difficult to carry out effectively and has insisted upon taking actions with which I have fundamental disagreements,” Baez told the judge.
The trial has already been postponed once, but the new defense team assured Burke that they would be ready to proceed on Sept. 9, the revised date.
Weinstein, 67, was originally represented by star litigator Benjamin Brafman, who likewise clashed with his client over legal strategy.
“I chose to represent Harvey Weinstein because I think these are the types of cases that lawyers that do what I do live for,” Rotunno said after the hearing. “It gives us an opportunity to have a forum to speak what we believe, and I believe that the facts and evidence in this case are actually very favorable to Mr. Weinstein.”
Being a woman, Rotunno said, would give her special insight into the testimony of the women appearing as witnesses against Weinstein.
Cheronis and Rotunno join a defense team that includes Marianne Bertuna and Arthur Aidala, who has represented prominent people such as rapper 50 Cent and the late founder of Fox News, Roger Ailes.
The criminal case involves two women.
One accuser says Weinstein raped her in a New York hotel room in 2013, while the other says he forcibly performed oral sex on her at his Manhattan apartment in 2006.
The former Hollywood producer has faced accusations of sexual misconduct by dozens of women, including several famous actresses.
Weinstein was fired from the film company he co-founded, expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, abandoned by his wife and repudiated by his colleagues amid the massive scandal, which erupted in late 2017.
The producer of Hollywood blockbusters such as “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love” pleaded not guilty in the case before the Manhattan court and has consistently denied all accusations of non-consensual sex.