Judge ap­proves new We­in­stein le­gal team led by #MeToo critic

The Prince George Citizen - - A&e - Michael R. SISAK, Ali SWENSON

NEW YORK — A judge gave Harvey We­in­stein the green light Thurs­day to shake up his de­fence team yet again – this time a mere two months be­fore the dis­graced movie mogul whose case in­spired the #MeToo move­ment is due to stand trial in New York on sex­ual as­sault charges.

One lawyer had al­ready bolted amid pub­lic back­lash.

Now Jose Baez, known for rep­re­sent­ing high-pro­file clients such as Casey An­thony, is out af­ter say­ing he and We­in­stein just can’t get along. Donna Ro­tunno, a #MeToo critic spe­cial­iz­ing in de­fend­ing men ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct, and Da­mon Chero­nis are in.

Judge James Burke ap­proved the swap af­ter ques­tion­ing We­in­stein to en­sure it was what he wanted and get­ting the new lawyers to prom­ise they won’t seek to de­lay the trial from its sched­uled Sept. 9 start.

Baez sig­nalled last month that he wanted to leave the case, telling Burke in a let­ter that We­in­stein had tar­nished their re­la­tion­ship by com­mu­ni­cat­ing only through other lawyers and by fail­ing to abide by a fee agree­ment.

We­in­stein en­gaged in be­hav­iour that made rep­re­sent­ing him “un­rea­son­ably dif­fi­cult to carry out ef­fec­tively” and in­sisted on tak­ing ac­tions “with which I have fun­da­men­tal dis­agree­ments,” Baez wrote.

Bound­ing out of the court­room Thurs­day af­ter get­ting sprung from the case, Baez said: “I feel like I won the lot­tery. Just kidding.”

Ro­tunno has es­poused a phi­los­o­phy that the #MeToo move­ment, spurred by rev­e­la­tions about We­in­stein’s al­leged be­hav­iour, is overblown and that women are “re­spon­si­ble for the choices they make.”

“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 out­side the court­house 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 favourable to

Mr. We­in­stein.”

Glo­ria Allred, who rep­re­sents one of the ac­cusers in the crim­i­nal case, of­fered a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, say­ing: “I agree that women are re­spon­si­ble for their own choices, but when will Mr. We­in­stein be held re­spon­si­ble for his?”

Ro­tunno and Chero­nis prac­tice in Chicago.

They join three New York City lawyers: Arthur Ai­dala, whose clients have in­cluded rap­per 50 Cent and for­mer Har­vard law pro­fes­sor Alan Der­showitz; Diana Fabi Sam­son; and Barry Kamins, who as a judge over­saw New York City’s crim­i­nal courts.

The lawyers and pros­e­cu­tors said they’ll work out a sched­ule for ex­chang­ing wit­ness lists and for pros­e­cu­tors to turn over ev­i­dence, such as emails from We­in­stein’s movie stu­dio that per­tain to po­ten­tial wit­nesses.

Baez is the lat­est de­fec­tion from what was once seen as a modern ver­sion of O.J. Simp­son’s “dream team” of at­tor­neys. Har­vard law pro­fes­sor Ron­ald Sullivan left in May amid back­lash about his in­volve­ment.

Sullivan’s in­volve­ment in the case drew protests from some stu­dents and fac­ulty mem­bers on the Cam­bridge, Mass., cam­pus. Build­ings were de­faced with graf­fiti that in­cluded the slo­gans Down w Sullivan!, Your Si­lence is Vi­o­lence and Whose Side Are You On?

Thurs­day’s hear­ing on the lawyer switch played out in open court, but two con­ver­sa­tions among the judge and lawyers hap­pened in se­crecy.

Af­ter ap­prov­ing Baez’s re­quest to with­draw from the case, Burke called him to the bench for a oneon-one chat that lasted about five min­utes with no court re­porter to tran­scribe the con­ver­sa­tion.

Later, he called all the lawyers to the bench for a 10-minute dis­cus­sion of how they’ll pro­ceed when it comes time for jury se­lec­tion.

Again, there was no court re­porter to make a record of the con­ver­sa­tion.

Ai­dala ap­peared per­turbed by what he called the judge’s “ex­tended pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion” with Baez.

He asked whether he could also ap­proach the bench, but Burke waved him off.

We­in­stein, 67, is charged with rap­ing a woman in 2013 and per­form­ing a forcible sex act on a dif­fer­ent woman in 2006.

He de­nies the al­le­ga­tions, has pleaded not guilty and is free on $1 mil­lion bail.

Baez and Sullivan started rep­re­sent­ing We­in­stein in Jan­uary, when the for­mer movie pro­ducer over­hauled his le­gal team for the first time.

That hap­pened af­ter his orig­i­nal lawyer, Ben­jamin Braf­man, lost a hard-fought bid to get the case thrown out.

Pamela Ro­bil­lard Mackey, who rep­re­sented Kobe Bryant in his 2003 Colorado sex­ual as­sault case, and ex-Man­hat­tan prose­cu­tor Dun­can Levin were also hired in Jan­uary and have since left.

AP PHOTO BY RICHARD DREW

Harvey We­in­stein, left, ar­rives at court for a hear­ing re­lated to his sex­ual as­sault case on Thurs­day in New York.

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