UPDATED with details from cross-examination and afternoon testimony. Harvey Weinstein defense attorney Damon Cheronis spent more than two hours Monday working to undermine the testimony of Mimi Haleyi, a former production assistant who has accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault.
Haleyi, who met Weinstein in 2004 and then had a series of dealings with him in 2006 before, during and after a stint as a production assistant on Project Runway, accuses Weinstein of sexually assaulting her on two separate occasions. She spent the full day on the witness stand Monday as the trial entered its fourth week in the courtroom of New York Supreme Court Judge James Burke, who excused her at the end of the day. More witnesses are expected to appear throughout the week.
In a steady series of jabs, Cheronis stressed the larger narrative outlined by the defense that Weinstein’s sexual encounters were consensual, as evidenced by continued dealings between Weinstein and his female accusers after the alleged attacks.
Haleyi often responded firmly to Cheronis, but the attorney doggedly kept trying to lead her (and the jury) back to the conclusion that she had continued to treat her alleged rapist with respect and even fondness.
Using emails sent by Haleyi as well as pages of her calendar — the same ones used by prosecutors as they established their timeline during their questioning of Haleyi — Cheronis drew a portrait of a young entertainment pro on the make. “Do you remember thinking in your head, ‘Why am I going to call this guy for a job?!’” Cheronis asked, incredulous, after quoting from one email Haleyi sent after the alleged assault in which she inquired about work prospects. “No, I needed a job,” she replied evenly.
Several trips from New York — including one to the LA premiere of Clerks 2 and another to London — were arranged and paid for by the Weinstein Co., according to records marshaled by the defense. Citing phone, email and diary information, Cheronis asserted that Haleyi “wanted a connection with Mr. Weinstein to help your career.”
Haleyi, who told the court she has specialized in short-form, online content over the past decade, was developing a project and did not dispute that she stayed in touch with Weinstein after the alleged assaults, mindful of his industry influence. “You wanted to meet with him in a hotel and pitch a project to him!” Cheronis said. “I wanted to pitch a project to him,” Haleyi shrugged.
The assertions by Cheronis reached a crescendo at the end of his cross-examination. He read from a 2009 email in which Haleyi offered her services as a yoga instructor and zeroed in on her motivations in participating in an October 2017 press conference, during which she first aired her allegations.
“You had some options” when memories of the incidents in 2006 could not be put to rest, Cheronis said. “You could have called the police. You hired a lawyer,” Gloria Allred, who orchestrated the press conference, representing Haleyi pro bono in the criminal matter but leaving open the possibility of leading a civil lawsuit, which would bring a potential payday.
“You knew that the whole world would be listening,” Cheronis said. Intentionally omitting certain details about her history with Weinstein, “you said it was what your attorney described as ‘your truth,’” Cheronis said. “It was the truth and it is the truth,” she countered. “At the end of the day, you did not tell the world the rest of the story,” he responded.
Prosecutor Meghan Hast, in her redirect, asked Haleyi why she took part in the press conference. “I was interested in helping anyone else who might be having this experience,” she said.
Cheronis insisted Haleyi’s motives were far from pure. With Weinstein crippled by business difficulties exacerbated by the early weeks of #MeToo revelations about him, she made the calculation that he was no longer of use to her, Cheronis argued.
“In October 2017, it wasn’t in vogue anymore to be friends with Harvey Weinstein, was it?” Cheronis asked, rhetorically. “The truth is, you had a consensual relationship with him.”
Replied Haleyi, “I considered him a professional and social acquaintance.”
Hast ended her redirect by asking the witness, “Were you using Harvey Weinstein?”
She responded, “I don’t think so.”
PREVIOUSLY, 9:18AM PT: Mimi Haleyi, a former production assistant with Project Runway, began the fourth week of the Harvey Weinstein rape trial in New York on Monday by describing two separate incidents of alleged sexual assault in 2006.
Haleyi is one of two women whose allegations against Weinstein yielded the five felony counts facing the film producer and executive in the watershed #MeToo case. In nearly two hours on the witness stand in New York Supreme Court this morning, Haleyi offered her account of progressively intense dealings with Weinstein, which she said culminated in two instances of full-blown assault.
In the second episode, in the summer of 2006, Haleyi went to meet Weinstein at a hotel in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood. Soon after entering the room, “He took my hand and pulled me toward the bed. I just went numb. I thought, ‘Here we go again,’ ” she said on the stand.
During sexual intercourse, Haleyi testified, Weinstein “said something like, ‘you’re a whore and a bitch’ but in a way that he thought somehow would turn me on.”
Even though she remembered feeling certain that she was neither of those, Haleyi said, “I felt like such an idiot. … I had made it so clear that I wasn’t going to meet with him again.” Haleyi dissolved into tears, one of several moments during her testimony when she lost her composure.
Defense attorney Damon Cheronis, in cross-examining Haleyi, presented an email from 2008 in which she said it was “great to see” Weinstein at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. The email was signed “lots of love,” which Cheronis said was inconsistent. “When you saw him in Cannes, you didn’t turn and walk in the other direction, did you?” Cheronis asked rhetorically.
The hotel encounter followed one week earlier a visit to Weinstein’s apartment in New York. After settling in on one end of a sofa where Weinstein also sat, Haleyi said the defendant “lunged” at her and tried to kiss her. When she got up and backed away, she remembered him following her and backing her into a child’s bedroom.
“I tried to get up, but he pushed me down,” Haleyi said, her voice thick with emotion. “I had expressed throughout this entire time that I didn’t want to …. I said I was on my period. … Every time I tried to get off the bed, he would force me back down.”
Weinstein then held her down and forced himself on her orally, Haleyi said, at one point removing her tampon. “I just kept crying, ‘No, no!'” she said. “I was mortified.” After considering different escape options, she said, “I figured it was pointless and I was squirming and I just checked out, basically.”
Earlier in 2006, Weinstein and Haleyi — who first met in 2004 — had several routine business meetings, but some warning signs emerged, she testified. At one point, the mogul became “insistent” that she fly with him to fashion shows in Paris, showing up “unannounced” at her apartment building and “barging” past her through the front door where she had tried to intercept him.
His tone was “overwhelming,” Haleyi recalled. “Still friendly, but he was almost begging. … He would not accept the ‘no.’” Unsure how to deter him, Haleyi resorted to what she called a “half-joke,” observing, “‘You know, you have a terrible reputation with women. …. He got offended by that” and finally relented.
Another key moment, Haleyi said, came in a May 2006 meeting in a suite at the Majestic Hotel in Cannes, where The Weinstein Company had set up its office during the film festival.
Haleyi, whose given name is Miriam Haley, testified that she was brought into the company’s suite by an assistant, who then left. After some initial small talk, Haleyi recalled, Weinstein took a sharp left turn. “He was asking me if I did massages and if I could give him a massage. I declined and said perhaps you could contact the front desk. He proceeded to ask me again if I would give him a massage and I declined.”
Prosecutor Meghan Hast asked Haleyi how the experience left her feeling. “Humiliated,” she said. “I was extremely humiliated and I just felt so stupid that I had been excited to see him and he treated me that way. I was crying. I waited until I left the hotel and then I burst into tears.”
Hast then asked if she had any interest in Weinstein romantically or sexually. “Not at all,” she said.
Haleyi, 42, initially went public with her allegations at an October 2017 news conference organized by her attorney, Gloria Allred. Haleyi recalled meeting Weinstein in London at the 2004 premiere of The Aviator. She then connected with him in Cannes and New York, hoping to pursue a career in the entertainment business and their meetings, she said, culminated in sexual assault in 2006.
Allred sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery during Haleyi’s testimony today.
Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax and TWC, has maintained that all sexual encounters were consensual. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
In a pre-trial hearing last year, Weinstein’s defense team cited text messages sent by Haleyi to their client in their effort to have the case dismissed. The messages, defense attorneys argue, along with others by several accusers, show a warm and friendly tone that is inconsistent with one that victims of abuse and harassment would likely use. One text she sent to Weinstein’s office read, “Hi! Just wondering if u have any news on whether Harvey will have time to see me before he leaves? X Miriam.”