Harvey Weinstein hires two new lawyers, including a woman

Disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein leaves the State Supreme Court in April 2019 after a break in a pre-trial hearing over sexual assault charges. (AFP pic)

NEW YORK: Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has hired two new lawyers, including a woman, making his third change of legal representation barely two months before his trial on sexual assault charges.

Weinstein’s new lawyers are Chicago-based Damon Cheronis and Donna Rotunno, a former prosecutor who specializes in defending men accused of sexual assault.

Their firm confirmed Friday they would be taking on the case.

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.

Their cases were among a cascade of accusations against Weinstein that catalysed the #MeToo movement.

In an interview with Chicago Magazine in 2018, Rotunno questioned the #MeToo movement’s insistence on “believing the women.”

“We are in an era of conviction by allegation in this country right now,” she said, “which flies in the face of the entire principle of innocent until proven guilty.”

As a woman, she said, she could cross-examine alleged female victims more aggressively than a male lawyer.

“He may be an excellent lawyer, but if he goes at that woman with the same venom that I do, he looks like a bully. If I do it, nobody even bats an eyelash. And it’s been very effective.”

Weinstein has changed lawyers three times since he was first charged in New York in May 2018.

His first lawyer, star New York defence attorney Ben Brafman, withdrew from the case in January.

Brafman’s replacement – high-flying lawyers Ronald Sullivan and Jose Baez – pulled out one after another six months later.

Sullivan, a Harvard law professor, withdrew from the case in May after coming under intense pressure on campus for defending the man seen as having given rise to the #MeToo movement.

Baez backed out earlier this month, citing “fundamental disagreements” with Weinstein and telling the judge that his client’s behaviour had made representing him “unreasonably difficult.”

The change in lawyers should be confirmed during a Manhattan court hearing scheduled for July 11, the office of the prosecution said Friday.

The trial schedule remains unchanged, with jury selection to begin September 9.

The new lawyers have agreed to the date in court filings, US media reported.

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.