A New York judge approved fresh changes to the defence team of Harvey Weinstein on Thursday, less than two months before the former Hollywood producer’s trial on sexual assault charges is set to begin on September 9.
Asked by Judge James Burke if he agreed to allow Chicago-based Donna Rotunno, a former prosecutor who specializes in defending men accused of sexual assault, and Damon Cheronis to replace his current attorney Jose Baez, Weinstein, dressed in a suit and tie, said “Yes.”
Weinstein faces charges involving two different women — one who alleges he raped her in 2013, the other that he forced her to perform oral sex in 2006.
Having originally retained leading New York attorney Benjamin Brafman, who battled unsuccessfully to get the case dismissed, Weinstein then switched out his team earlier this year and brought in Baez and also Ronald Sullivan, a Harvard law professor, who withdrew in May after protests on campus.
According to US media reports, the founder of the Miramax studios and The Weinstein Company has reviewed his defence strategy several times and thought that having a woman heading his team would make a more favourable impression on the jury in a sexual assault case.
“I think this type of a case requires the right lawyers,” Rotunno said after the court session. “I think a woman standing here could make a difference. I think I may view things a little bit differently.”
She said the #MeToo movement, which erupted in protest against sexual harassment as dozens of women came forward to denounce Weinstein, was partly to blame for her client’s plight.
“Movements allow emotions to take over and they’re devoid of facts and evidence,” she said. “Emotion, in this case, has taken over.”
“We are hoping that as the trial progresses, as evidence is put forth and witnesses are heard, we will hear the other side of this story,” the attorney said. “The story that has been told up to this point has been very one-sided. And I can promise you that there is a truth you have not reported on.”
Lawyers representing the women accusing Weinstein pointed out that disgraced entertainer Bill Cosby had also hired a high-powered woman lawyer to plead his case, but he ended up in jail.
Once one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, Weinstein has been accused of harassment and assault by more than 80 women, including stars such as Angelina Jolie and Ashley Judd.
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