Using a walker and the aid of his team of attorneys, disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein arrived in court Monday for the start of his sexual assault trial in New York.
The trial begins more than two years after bombshell stories in The New York Times and The New Yorker quoted women who accused Weinstein of sexual abuse, harassment, secret settlements and generally using his influence as a Hollywood power broker to take advantage of young women.
Since then, more than 80 women have publicly accused Weinstein, 67, of sexual misconduct. That wave of women coming forward launched what’s now known as the #MeToo movement to empower women to expose abusive, harassing men across the world.
The #MeToo era is inextricably tied to Weinstein’s public downfall, but its influence on Weinstein’s legal case is far from clear.
Weinstein faces five felony charges based on claims by just two women, one of whom remains anonymous. Several other women who say he assaulted them will also testify, including “The Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra, as prosecutors seek to prove he committed sex crimes against multiple women.
Many of the other women’s allegations occurred outside the statute of limitations; the vast majority of women who say he wronged them will have no part in this trial.
Weinstein has pleaded not guilty and is not expected to testify. His defense, instead, will focus on undermining the women’s testimony and arguing that the alleged incidents were consensual. He could face up to life in prison if convicted of predatory sexual assault, the most serious charge.
Weinstein, who is recovering from back surgery last month, arrived to court hunched over a walker. On Monday, a reporter asked him how his back is doing and he said “not so good.”
In emails to CNN prior to the trial, he said that he has learned to self-reflect over the past two years.
“The past two years have been grueling and have presented me with a great opportunity for self-reflection,” Weinstein wrote. “I realize now that I was consumed with my work, my company and my drive for success. This caused me to neglect my family, my relationships and to lash out at the people around me. I have been in rehab since October 2017, and have been involved in a 12-step program and meditation. I have learned to give up my need for control.”
‘Silence Breakers’ speak outside court
Outside court on Monday, a group of women calling themselves “Silence Breakers” — who have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct — offered their support to the women expected to testify in court.
“As one of the silence-breakers, I stand in solidarity with the brave survivors who will take the stand against Harvey Weinstein in this trial,” said Rosanna Arquette, the actress and director. “While the emotion of the day runs high, I join these other brave women who were also harmed by Harvey Weinstein to say: we aren’t going anywhere.”
Actress Rose McGowan, who has accused Weinstein of rape, also said Weinstein had brought this upon himself.
“Today is a day for us to honor how far we’ve come and how much we’ve endured to get here, but it is not the end,” McGowan said.
His trial will be the third celebrity sexual assault case of the #MeToo era. Comedian Bill Cosby was found guilty of sexual assault in the first prominent assault trial of the era, while an assault case against actor Kevin Spacey fell apart before it went to trial.
Trial to last over two months
The trial, at the New York State Supreme Court, starts with two weeks of jury selection on Tuesday and then about eight weeks of arguments and testimony, his attorney Donna Rotunno said.
Monday’s hearing lasted about 80 minutes as Judge James Burke made a series of rulings that set the terms of the trial to come. The rest of this week will be for pre-screening jury selection, then the court will aim to bring back the jury pool for standard jury selection process January 14.
Weinstein could also face coming charges from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Burke said that he will not hear arguments or issue an advisory opinion on pending matters in other jurisdictions prior to those charges.
Burke denied the prosecution’s request to bar the defense from talking about the case outside the court room, but told both parties not to discuss any witnesses in any capacity with the media.
Weinstein’s defense asked that the jury be sequestered during the trial. Burke has not yet ruled on that argument.
The judge ruled that the defense cannot call Det. Nicholas DiGaudio, the former lead detective on the case, to the stand during the defense, but they may cross examine witnesses as to their interactions with him. DiGuadio was removed as the lead detective after he told an accuser to delete cell phone messages prior to turning her phones over to authorities, which later led to the dismissal of one charge.
The prosecutor, Joan Illuzzi, told the judge that if the defense will not agree to specific language regarding a Black Cube employee hired by Weinstein’s defense, the prosecution will be forced to call former Weinstein attorney David Boies to the stand to define Black Cube for the jury to enter it into the record.
Black Cube is an Israeli firm of private investigators. Illuzzi said the language would identify the Black Cube employee as one hired by the Weinstein defense.
The prosecution announced additional discovery that federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York and the New York State Attorney General’s office recently supplied, but did not specify the content.
There was discussion of seven compromising photos that would be submitted to the jury but not entered into the public evidence docket because they might be humiliating to Weinstein.
The prosecution told the judge that the defense has not submitted a single piece of discovery nor provided a witness list.