Judge approves changes to Weinstein's legal team
NEW YORK (AP) — Harvey Weinstein won a judge's approval Friday to overhaul the defense team in his rape and sexual assault case, replacing his bulldog New York City attorney with a four-person squad that's high on courtroom stars and headline-grabbing cases.
The disgraced Hollywood mogul was in a Manhattan courtroom — along with new lawyers Jose Baez, Ronald Sullivan and Duncan Levin, and ex-lawyer Benjamin Brafman — as Judge James Burke signed off on the switch.
"Welcome to the New York State Supreme Court," Burke told Weinstein's new lawyers.
Weinstein, 66, and Brafman, 70, announced last week that they had "agreed to part ways amicably." The move came a month after they lost a hard-fought bid to get the case thrown out.
Asked as he left court if he was happy with his new lawyers, Weinstein responded "absolutely." Brafman told reporters that he wished Weinstein "the best of luck with his case."
Weinstein's trial is slated for May 6, with a pretrial hearing March 8. Baez said they planned to abide by that schedule.
Weinstein is charged with raping a woman in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006. He denies the allegations.
"He is innocent," Baez said after Friday's hearing. "This is what Harvey Weinstein has said to this court, that he is innocent of these charges, when he pled not guilty."
Baez said Weinstein's case "is testing the presumption of innocence in our country" as it unfolds in a post-MeToo world where rushes to judgment and social media condemnation have become the norm.
"You have a man who needs to stand trial for these specific acts and he should be entitled to the same presumption as everyone else," Baez said. Ignoring due process, he added, is "a threat to all of us."
Weinstein's other new lawyer, Pamela Robillard Mackey, didn't attend Friday's hearing because she was out of the country.
Baez is perhaps the best-known of the four, first gaining fame representing Casey Anthony, the Florida mom whose televised trial in 2011 ended in an acquittal on charges of killing her young daughter.
Baez and Sullivan, a 52-year-old Harvard law professor, teamed up to successfully defend New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez against murder charges in 2017. Hernandez, in prison for a 2015 murder conviction, killed himself five days later.
Mackey, based in Denver, represented Kobe Bryant when the former basketball star was accused of raping a 19-year-old at a Colorado resort in 2003. The charges were dismissed when prosecutors said the accuser was no longer interested in testifying.
Levin, a former prosecutor under Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., does white-collar criminal defense work in New York City.
Weinstein announced his new lawyers on Wednesday.
One of his Hollywood accusers immediately blasted Baez and Sullivan for agreeing to represent Weinstein after defending her in a drug case last year.
Actress Rose McGowan, one of the first of dozens of women to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct, called it a "major conflict of interest."
Baez and Sullivan denied that, saying McGowan's case had nothing to do with Weinstein. McGowan is not an accuser in his criminal case.
The "Charmed" star, who pleaded no contest last week, has alleged that Weinstein had someone plant cocaine that Virginia authorities said they found in her wallet.
Burke warned Weinstein that Baez and Sullivan would not be able to cross-examine McGowan "as vigorously as they might have otherwise" if prosecutors were to call her as a witness because they couldn't use information that they learned in representing her.
The judge said Baez and Sullivan could've used emails uncovered in Weinstein's criminal case in which the film producer discussed McGowan's planting allegations to aid her defense.
Brafman, in his last courtroom act as Weinstein's lawyer, told the judge that Weinstein was commenting in the emails "on the absurdity of the allegation" that he had the drugs planted, "not the truthfulness of the matter."
Baez and Sullivan agreed not to share any material from McGowan's case with Weinstein's other lawyers.