UPDATED with more details: Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty to rape and criminal sex act charges this morning at New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, a week after a grand jury charged him. His bail had already been set at $1 million.
Outside the courthouse on Centre Street in Lower Manhattan throngs of media, paparazzi and protesters gathered as Weinstein arrived wearing a dark suit and a tie. (See video clip below.) A second flock of media and onlookers stood behind barricades set up in the hallway outside the 13th-floor courtroom as Weinstein shuffled past with a noticeable hitch in his stride.
The hearing lasted about a half-hour, with Weinstein’s portion taking up just a tiny part of the proceeding. He answered all questions posed to him with a firm “yes” and a nod of his head. Weinstein is next scheduled to appear September 20. The judge also set deadlines and dates in July and August for pre-trial motions and conferences.
Weinstein faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted. The not guilty plea had been expected; his primary lawyer Benjamin Brafman said in the hearing that his client “intends to vigorously fight these charges.” He added, “However reprehensible the crime of rape may be, it is equally reprehensible to falsely accuse someone of rape.”
The bulk of today’s time in court was consumed by an exchange between Brafman, Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi and Manhattan Supreme Court Justice James Burke. For anyone who has spent time in Weinstein’s once-formidable industry orbit, it was a striking spectacle to see sparks fly in the courtroom as the man accustomed to being the center of attention was reduced to a mere spectator.
Brafman addressed an issue that has swirled around his defense of Weinstein in recent days: a former associate at his law firm’s discussions with a Weinstein accuser named Melissa Thompson about representing her. In a federal lawsuit, Thompson has claimed that Brafman’s firm acted “shady” in its interactions with her, which she says were actually an effort to gather information that could be used to help Weinstein. This alleged conflict of interest, the suit says, should disqualify Brafman from representing Weinstein.
Should Thompson wind up testifying in this case, all parties agreed this morning, Brafman would have to recuse himself. In his remarks to the judge, Brafman adamantly insisted that the “tabloid” issue was a non-story and that he had “zero knowledge” of the contact between his firm and Thompson. He said the lawyer moved to a different firm soon after being in contact with Thompson via email. “I can’t control the tabloids. I can’t control what ex-associates say,” Brafman said. “What I can control is what I do. And what I do is consistent with the law.”
After Brafman complained about “law-enforcement sources” leaking information to the press, including Thompson having been spotted at the D.A.’s office on Monday, Illuzzi said prosecutors “take umbrage” at that accusation. She also said the prosecution objected to Brafman’s efforts in March to contextualize Weinstein’s alleged behavior in the decades-long history of Hollywood’s “casting couch.” The defense attorney responded, “My job is to defend specific allegations. My job is not to defend what some may call inappropriate behavior that may not rise to the level of criminal.”
In negotiating the timetable for filing pre-trial motions, Brafman signaled the possibility he may ask the court to separate the accusers and create separate trials. “They were eight to 10 years apart and they have no relationship to each other,” he argued.
After surrendering himself to the NYPD on May 25 after months of investigation, Weinstein, who has been accused by dozens of women, was arrested. He was charged with two counts of rape (one involving force) as well as a criminal sexual act in the first degree, for alleged assaults against two women that occurred in 2013 and 2004.
The grand jury charges supersede that matter, with the same charges in the indictment that came down May 30.