Harvey Weinstein won’t be hauled into a City of Angels courtroom on rape charges for at least a few more weeks, but the now convicted and much accused producer is proving a potentially decisive factor in Tuesday’s primary election for Los Angles County District Attorney.
As incumbent Jackie Lacey tries to contain the blast radius over her husband this morning threatening Black Lives Matter protesters with a gun if they didn’t get off the couple’s Granada Hills property, the bid for the powerful D.A. job has tightened in the polls. Among other topics, the main contenders for the post are fighting over why multiple sexual assault charges were only made public against Weinstein in Los Angeles in January, on the first day of his rape trial in New York City.
“There’s no objective reason to wait years to bring these charges other than to aid her prospects of reelection,” Lacey’s top rival George Gascón told Deadline on Monday.
“A task force was formed years ago to look into 40 different incidents, so the fact that charges were filed in just one case on the eve of Weinstein’s New York trial paints a disturbing picture about this administration’s priorities,” the ex-San Francisco D.A. and Assistant Chief of the LAPD added of the timing and possible motivation. “It’s politics at the expense of community safety.”
Just as prosecutors in Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr’s office, Weinstein’s multi-pronged defense team and the accused settled into their seats in Judge James Burke’s courtroom on January 6, Lacey, who is seeking a third term, told a West Coast press conference that Weinstein was being charged with multiple felony counts from “raping one woman and sexually assaulting another in separate incidents over a two-day period in 2013.” Flanked by police brass and members of her Sex Crimes division, Lacey declared that “once the defendant’s case is completed in New York, we expect him to appear in a courtroom in Los Angeles County to face the charges.”
Soon after Weinstein was convicted on a series of sex crimes charges in NYC on February 24, L.A. County Deputy D.A. Paul Thompson said he was “definitely proceeding” with the case out West – even as the calendar dictates other more immediate deadlines.
In the three-way Democratic primary Tuesday with fellow candidate and former public defender Rachel Rossi, neither Lacey nor reformist Gascón are expected to top the 50% vote threshold needed to avoid a run-off in November. Still, Gascón’s accusations of the role politics played in Lacey finally taking Weinstein to court in L.A. are echoed by others in the arena.
“This was about Jackie going after the women’s vote,” a local political insider asserts of the intention of L.A.’s first female and first African-American D.A. “Showing that you’re going to make Harvey Weinstein pay for his actions will resonate with that demographic, obviously, and Jackie needs them to win,” the individual adds of the candidate who ran unopposed for her 2016 reelection.
“Not only did Lacey get a ton of free media with the announcement of the Weinstein charges at the start of the New York trial, but it benefits her to have a trial going heading into the fall,” a well-placed law enforcement official said of the four felony counts the producer faces in Los Angeles. “If handled right, the trial will be in the media every day, making the D.A. look great,” the source concludes. The source also admitted that a number of Lacey supporters wish she had moved on Weinstein earlier as the optics were “suspect.”
Contacted by Deadline, the Lacey campaign had nothing to say about concerns over the timing of the Weinstein charges, except to reiterate its stance in early January that Gascón “can’t help but see law enforcement decisions through a political lens.” Asked on January 6 why it took so long to finally charge Weinstein, Lacey said that the case was first reported to police in 2017, and it simply took time and travel overseas to put all the pieces together.
More behind the scenes, sources also tell Deadline that the L.A. announcement on the opening day of the NYC trial was in part to allow Manhattan prosecutors access to documents from the West Coast investigation – a process that could only occur if the L.A. case was a go.
Found guilty of criminal sexual assault in the first degree and rape in the third degree by a jury in lower Manhattan’s Criminal Courts building last month, the often-hobbling Weinstein is currently holed up in the Big Apple’s Bellevue Hospital being monitored for his health and awaiting sentencing March 11. If Burke goes full-on for the two of five counts the Pulp Fiction producer was convicted of, the 67-year old Weinstein could be looking at nearly 30 years behind bars.
Even as Weinstein’s defense team has ramped down the past few days their once bellicose desire for bail for the detained defendant under apprehension that their client could be picked up and flown out West to face an arraignment, the Manhattan D.A.’s office has said that it is working on the assumption that nothing further will happen until the producer is sentenced, bail or no bail. Presently out on $5 million bail for the L.A. case, if found guilty Weinstein may be hit with 28 years of imprisonment, either consecutively or concurrently.
Based on the fact that Italian model and actress Lauren Young, the focus of the L.A. case, had no subsequent contact or communications with Weinstein after the respective West Coast incident allegedly occurred, the Los Angeles case is widely seen as being more substantial overall than the somewhat successful NYC trial. Still, with Young having been among those who testified in the NYC trial, the legacy of Lacey’s time in office since first being elected in 2012 is perceived in many circles as being hesitant to go after the rich, powerful and connected, as well as the police.
Despite various LAPD probes of sexual misconduct by Bill Cosby, the tough prosecutors in Lacey’s office never instigated proceedings against the man once known as “America’s Dad” citing statue of limitations, insufficient evidence and other restrictions. After a Pennsylvania mistrial, Cosby was labeled a sexual predator in a second trial and found guilty in April 2018 of sexually assaulting then-Temple University employee Andrea Constand in 2004. Still filing appeals and claiming he was railroaded, the actor was sentenced in September 2018 to three to 10 years in a state prison.
“Jackie Lacey does a lot of good work, like her efforts in the field of mental health and the law, but she seems to have a blind spot when it comes to Hollywood types,” a high-profile litigator argues. “Then again, with the fiascos that were O.J., Robert Blake and Phil Spector, can you blame her?” the lawyer tosses out with a grin after his quick history of celebrity cases gone off the rails.
Even with the special L.A. DA task force to look into allegations of sexual assault in the entertainment industry established by Lacey in November 2017 — just over a month after the New York Times published its initial exposé of Weinstein — the charges filed against the producer earlier this year ago remain the only move into the courts by the division. This despite accusations and investigations of many others and at least eight separate probes of Weinstein himself.
And, as good as the L.A. case against Weinstein may be to some, it may also aid the Oscar-winning producer’s planned appeal of the NYC convictions.
The timing of the media-spotlighted charges against Weinstein out of L.A. stemming from that Oscar weekend in 2013 immediately became a legal wedge on the East Coast as lead defense lawyers Donna Rotunno and Arthur Aidala argued unsuccessfully in early January for a “cooling off period” to “pick a fair and impartial jury.” While Judge Burke said at the time that it was best to ignore events in other jurisdictions and denied the defense’s attempt in that trial’s early days, the lawyers certainly have the impact of the L.A. announcement on their list of citations for a probable appeal based on an unfair trial.
All of which means it could be a long time before Weinstein stands trial in Los Angeles, regardless of who may be the District Attorney of America’s biggest prosecutorial jurisdiction.