Harvey Weinstein rape trial begins in New York

Wednesday 08th January 2020 06:06 EST

Dressed in a black suit, former film producer Harvey Weinstein arrived at a Manhattan court on Monday for the start of his landmark rape trial, met by celebrity accusers including Rosanna Arquette who helped fuel the #MeToo movement in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against him. Weinstein hobbled into court leaning on a walker and with a member of his team holding his arm. Lead defense counsel Donna Rotunno followed close behind.

Once one of Hollywood’s most powerful men, Weinstein ,67, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting two women in New York. He faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault. Outside the courthouse, the Silence Breakers, a group of Weinstein accusers including actresses Arquette and Rose McGowan, held a press conference and demanded accountability for Weinstein.

“As we stand here at the beginning of a new year and a new decade, time’s up on sexual harassment in all workplaces,” said Arquette. “And time’s up on the pervasive culture of silence that has enabled abusers like Weinstein.” #TimesUp is also the name of a movement that works against sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender-based discrimination. Weinstein did not engage with the accusers who shouted at him outside court. McGowan was dismissive of Weinstein’s feeble appearance. “I think he’s taken some good acting tips.”

More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct dating back decades. Those accusations helped fuel the #MeToo movement, in which hundreds of women have publicly accused powerful men in business, politics, the news media and entertainment of sexual harassment or assault. Weinstein has denied the allegations, saying any sexual encounters he had were consensual.

Monday’s court proceedings began with a pretrial conference in state court, with jury selection starting on Tuesday, according to Danny Frost, a spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, whose office brought the charges. The court sent jury questionnaires to 2,000 potential jurors. One of the women Weinstein was charged with assaulting, former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, has said that Weinstein sexually assaulted her in 2006. Prosecutors say Weinstein raped the second woman, who has not been publicly identified, in 2013

The trial will hang over the Hollywood awards season, which began with Sunday’s Golden Globes. Weinstein was once a fixture at the industry’s glitzy ceremonies, with numerous critically acclaimed small-budget films such as “Shakespeare in Love,” which won the Oscar for best picture in 1999. Juda Engelmayer, a spokesman for Weinstein, said that the two women in the criminal case had long-term relationships with Weinstein. He said it was prejudicial to conflate the criminal matter with allegations in civil cases or with public grievances he said were lodged by women who were not part of any lawsuit.

Allegations against Weinstein first were reported in October 2017. Within days, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which selects Oscar winners, had expelled Weinstein. If Weinstein is acquitted, he is still likely to face legal problems. At least 29 women in the United States, Canada and Europe have brought civil claims against him. The allegations in the civil lawsuits range from battery, assault and defamation to sex trafficking and racketeering. He has denied the allegations.

The parties have been trying to work out a $25 million settlement to resolve most of the civil cases. The deal would not require Weinstein to contribute personally or to admit wrongdoing, prompting at least one woman to reject the proposal. The film company Weinstein founded with his brother Bob, The Weinstein Co, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in March 2018.

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