UPDATE, 7:23 AM: Harvey Weinstein officially has a new defense team today, according to the New York Supreme Court.
“Welcome to the New York State Supreme Court,” Justice James Burke told attorneys Ronald Sullivan Jose Baez and Duncan Levin this morning in a hearing in lower Manhattan with the disgraced producer in attendance. Along with Pam Mackey, the Harvard professor, his long time Florida-based associate and Levin were formally approved by the court to take over Weinstein’s counsel from the now exited Ben Brafman.
While Brafman was there, Denver-based Mackey did not join Weinstein, Sullivan, Baez and Levin at the hearing Friday.
No word yet if the change in lawyers and probably legal tactics will lead to a delay in the May start of Weinstein’s criminal trial. The rape charges against the Sundance Film Festival regular could see Weinstein behind bars for life if found guilty on indictments put forth by the office of Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr. However, based on the knock-on effect when the now imprisoned Bill Cosby changed lawyers in his sexual assault case, a push back on the biggest trial of the #metoo era is a very real possibility.
The next hearing in the matter is currently inked in for March 8, a day later than previously scheduled.
PREVIOUSLY, JAN. 23 AM: Days before a blistering documentary on Harvey Weinstein’s allegedly vast sexual misconduct is set to debut at the Sundance Film Festival, the much-accused producer has assembled a new criminal defense team that features a lawyer who helped one of his most vocal critics.
“I can confirm that I along with Harvard Law Professor Ronald S. Sullivan have been retained by Harvey Weinstein,” said attorney Jose Baez today in a statement to Deadline. “Mr. Weinstein steadfastly maintains his innocence in this matter and we are looking forward to assisting Mr. Weinstein in his defense,” the Florida based lawyer added of the looming May starting trial in NYC that could see once Park City regular Weinstein behind bars for life for rape.
This expected move comes as Weinstein failed Tuesday to get a class action civil case against him by 10 women halted while the Empire State criminal case goes forward. At the same time and perhaps more importantly for Weinstein, U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein yesterday denied the plaintiffs’ move to stop the producer from using his The Weinstein Company emails and other correspondence in his wider defense.
Having cut attorney Ben Brafman loose after failing late last year to get the Manhattan D.A. prosecuted criminal case dismissed, Weinstein is hoping those emails and Baez, who Sean Hannity calls the “the best defense lawyer in the country” will make sure he avoids the fate of the now imprisoned Bill Cosby.
While one of the few lawyers not to work for Cosby at one point or another, Baez is no stranger to media spotlighted cases. He successfully acquired an acquittal for accused child killer Casey Anthony back in 2011. With his frequent legal partner Sullivan, Baez secured a not guilty verdict in 2017 on double murder charges for former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez. The troubled NFL player committed suicide less than a week later, the reasons for which Baez details in his 2018 book Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez.
Closer to the world of Weinstein and a seemingly shady twist in a case loaded with them so far, Baez represented Rose McGowan when the actor and longtime Weinstein rape accuser was indicated on one count of cocaine possession last summer. Indicating that she was set up for being so vocal about Weinstein’s assault of her at Sundance back in the late 1990s, McGowan eventually pleaded no contest to a charge of misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance.
“These charges would have never been brought if it weren’t for her activism as a voice for women everywhere,” a once strident Baez said for McGowan in June 2018 after the charges were first laid. McGowan supposedly left her wallet on her seat after a January 2017 United Airlines flight into Washington, DC’s Dulles Airport. Police said two bags of cocaine were discovered inside. “I assure you, this selective prosecution will be met with a strong defense,” Baez added last year in lawyer PR language similar to what he is now saying for Weinstein.
With new legal representation replacing Baez, first time offender McGowan was ordered on earlier this month to pay a fine of $2,500 fine and received a one-year suspended sentence from a Virginia judge.
We have also confirmed that along with Baez and Sullivan, Weinstein has brought
Denver-based Pam McKay of Haddon, Morgan & Foreman on board too. McKay was on the legal team in 2003 that defended the LA Lakers star player Kobe Bryant against rape charges. That case died just before it was set to go to trial after the allegedly victim suddenly said she would not testify.
Technically Ben Brafman is still Weinstein’s attorney until he is formally allowed by New York Supreme Court Justice James Burke to leave the case. With a likely delay in the case as the new team gets up to speed, that Brafman procedure is expected to happen in the new few days – maybe even on January 25 when the Ursula Macfarlane directed Untouchable premieres at the Robert Redford founded Utah festival.
Along with being accused by more than 60 women of sexual assault or sexual harassment, Weinstein is under investigation by federal prosecutors as well as the probe by the Manhattan D.A.’s office and the NYPD. Additional allegations against Weinstein have been reviewed by the LAPD, which sent an initial trio of cases to the L.A. County D.A. on February 8. Another case was handed over to that same office in in August. As UK police continue their investigation, the Beverly Hills Police passed two cases of sexual assault that they say occurred in their jurisdiction to Lacey’s office on January 2.