More than a full year after Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual assault, lawyers for the disgraced former Hollywood honcho — who is currently serving 23 years in New York prison — have filed an appeal, arguing that the judge made errors that resulted in a rigged trial.
Weinstein, who was convicted in Feb. 2020, culminating a two-month trial in New York Criminal Court, still awaits trial in L.A., where he faces 11 additional counts of rape and sexual assault, which could result in 140 years in prison.
The appeal was long-expected, as Weinstein’s attorneys declared to the press outside of the courthouse in early 2020 that they’d be appealing on behalf of their client, who maintains his innocence — and yet, the legal filing doesn’t sting any less to survivors of Weinstein, who has been publicly accused of abusing over one hundred women across multiple decades.
“Harvey Weinstein’s criminal appeal is a desperate attempt to undo a fair trial overseen by Judge Burke and the findings of a well-reasoned and thoughtful jury. We are confident the appeal will not alter his conviction and sentence,” said attorney Douglas H. Wigdor, the founding partner of Wigdor LLP, who represents seven Harvey Weinstein victims, including Tarale Wulff, who testified at the criminal trial.
Wulff was one of three “Molineux witnesses” in the New York trial, alongside Dawn Dunning and “The Sopranos” actor Annabella Sciorra, who also took the stand. In Monday’s appeal, Weinstein’s defense attorneys challenged the judge’s decision to allow the three women to testify about uncharged sexual assaults involving Weinstein. (During the Bill Cosby trial, “prior bad acts” witnesses were also allowed to testify, in order to establish a pattern of behavior.)
Weinstein was convicted in Feb. 2020 of two counts of third-degree rape and the first-degree sexual assault, but was acquitted on two more serious charges of “predatory sexual assault,” which would have stemmed from the accounts of Wulff, Dunning and Sciorra, who were brought into the trial by the New York District Attorney’s office to help establish a pattern of predatory sexual behavior.
On Monday, when contacted by Variety regarding Weinstein’s appeal, a spokesperson for the New York D.A.’s office said, “We will respond in our brief to the court.”
Insiders say the prosecutors’ brief might not be filed for several months, given the slow-and-lengthy appeals process in the state of New York.
(The two prosecutors who led the trial for the New York D.A.’s office, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and Meghan Hast, declined to comment and have never spoken to the media, following the high-profile trial, conviction and sentencing.)
Mimi Haley, a former production assistant on The Weinstein Co.’s “Project Runway” served as a key witness in the New York criminal trial. Haley’s account is the basis for Weinstein’s conviction on the charge of first-degree sexual assault. The third-degree rape conviction stemmed from the account of star witness Jessica Mann, who delivered a strong victim-impact statement, after three grueling days on the witness stand where she was brutally cross-examined by Weinstein’s defense team.
Haley’s attorney, Gloria Allred — who also represented Sciorra and witness Lauren Marie Young in the New York trial — took issue with Weinstein’s appeal on Monday, specifically the contention that Weinstein’s sexual conduct with Haley was consensual.
“Obviously, the jury did not agree with the argument made by Mr. Weinstein that his sexual interaction with Ms. Haley was consensual,” Allred said in a statement obtained by Variety on Monday. “Had the jury agreed, they would not have convicted Mr. Weinstein of this serious felony.”
Allred also disagrees with Weinstein’s lawyer’s declaration that the “Molineaux witnesses” should not have been permitted to testify.
“The prosecution called these witnesses…to prove a common plan, scheme or design by the defendant,” Allred’s statement reads, in part. “I believe that the jury was very careful and scrutinized the evidence of Mr. Weinstein’s common plan and scheme, not his propensity to engage in some such conduct, and that is why they decided to convict him.”
Weinstein accuser and trauma specialist, Lou Godbold, took to Twitter on Monday to react to Weinstein’s appeal. Due to the statute of limitations, Godbold — like so many other survivors — was not able to testify in the New York criminal trial.
“As a victim of one of those ‘prior bad acts’ and one of the many Molineux witnesses the judge did not allow, establishing the pattern of predatory behavior was all the influence we could bring to bear outside the statute of limitations,” Godbold tweeted. “So no, Harvey, you don’t get to erase us.”
Weinstein’s appeal filing also stated that the court should not have allowed for the testimony of expert witness, Dr. Barbara Ziv, a forensic psychiatrist who also served as an expert witness during the Cosby trial. At Weinstein’s trial, Dr. Ziv explained standard behaviors of sexual assault survivors to the jury to debunk “rape myths” that are commonly held by the public.
“I think that Dr. Ziv’s testimony was very important and allowed the jury to understand that many preconceived notions about what rape and sexual assault victims do after they become the victims of gender violence are myths, and not the reality,” Allred states.
While Weinstein’s legal team is arguing for a new trial, Allred believes a re-do to be completely unfit. “The jury has spoken, and I believe that this conviction should not be reversed,” she says. “I hope that the judgment against Mr. Weinstein will stand and that his request for a new trial on the issue of criminal sexual assault of Mimi will not be ordered.”
“Mr. Weinstein argues that the sentence imposed upon him was unduly harsh and excessive. I disagree,” Allred continues. “Although Mr. Weinstein was ordered to serve a lengthy prison term for his conviction of criminal sexual assault, I believe that this punishment fits the crime and that it also fits the defendant ordered to serve it.”
Allred’s client, Young, who testified in New York, will testify again in the Los Angeles trial — which has been put on hold, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Weinstein, however, awaits an extradition hearing in the near future. Allred will also represent another alleged victim in the L.A. criminal case whose identity has not yet been revealed.
On Monday afternoon, Rosanna Arquette — one of the first women to come forward with accusations against Weinstein — took to Twitter, reacting to Weinstein’s appeal, posting, “Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse.”
Arquette also tweeted about holding Weinstein accountable with the L.A. trial, writing, “There are many more women who have been raped by Weinstein through the years. Many women who had their careers destroyed. And many people in Hollywood who continue to protect him and vilify the survivors. The trial in Los Angeles will have six more women, one was 16 at the time.”
Sarah Ann Masse, an actor, comedian and writer, who accused Weinstein of sexually assaulting her during a 2008 meeting when she was interviewing to become his children’s nanny, also tweeted her reaction, slamming Weinstein’s appeal as the “desperate acts of a desperate man.”
“The survivors who gave testimony at this trial were incredibly brave, the jury heard their testimony & believed them,” Masse tweeted on Monday evening. “Weinstein is an abuser and nothing will change that. I believe this decision will stand. An LA conviction is next.”