UPDATED with statements from New York Attorney General and lawyers: Amid a growing chorus of objections and opposition, a federal judge this morning killed the proposed $19 million settlement for victims of Harvey Weinstein.
“Based on my studies of the papers, based on my study of the objection papers, and based on the flaws that I have already noted, I will not give preliminary approval to the settlement,” Judge Alvin Hellerstein declared on Tuesday.
With repeated questioning, the US District Court judge pulled apart the terms of the June 30 unveiled multi-million-dollar deal in the short telephone conference this morning after listening to plaintiffs’ chief lawyer Elizabeth Fagan lay out the case for the settlement. “The idea that Harvey Weinstein can get a defense fund ahead of the claimants is obnoxious,” said Hallerstein, who oversaw the 9/11 settlement case years ago. “The idea you can regulate the claims of people not in the settlement — I can’t subscribe to that,” he added, sweeping aside the legal house of cards in front of him
Heading now to expected fallout to follow in the courts, the refusal to give preliminary approval puts the kibosh on an insurance-fueled deal that Weinstein himself, his brother Bob Weinstein, the former board members of the Weinstein Company and other corporate entities had signed off on along with many women who had allegations against the once powerful and currently imprisoned producer. As part of a larger $47 million deal, the victims’ settlement also was approved by New York Attorney General Letitia James, despite a call from many other victims for the Empire State’s top law enforcement official to reject the agreement.
Paid off by TWC insurance policies, the deal to end the initial November 2017-filed case would have seen the creation of a fund for victims to make confidential claims.
Estimated to have ended up being around $20,000 per victim when all the math was done, the agreement also would have totally absolved Weinstein, his brother and long-term business partner and their former board from any liability without having to personally pay a dime. In fact, the “one-sided and unfair” settlement, as one critic called the long-festering negotiation, would have seen the Weinsteins haul in more than $15 million for their legal defense out of the deal — a reality that many including Hellerstein found “unconscionable.”
This aspect of the many Weinstein cases throws everything back to Square 1 and the bankruptcy courts, as the one-time mogul’s ex-wives have made legal moves of their own to freeze his personal assets. That reality led Hellerstein to exclaim today to Fagen, “why should I believe that anyone can secure anything?” in this “phony settlement,” which he concluded did not conform to a class action.
“Not every woman was captured in the same way,” the judge asserted to Fagen of the plaintiffs in the proposed class action, dismantling the deal in real time. “Not everyone woman was sexually molested. …Your settlement would create inequality among all of those people.”
“We will review the decision and determine next steps,” Attorney General James’ office said in a terse statement following today’s hearing, which was intended to last over an hour and barely made it to 20 minutes. “Our office has been fighting tirelessly to provide these brave women with the justice they are owed and will continue to do so.”
Lawyers for several women who had raised objections to the “cruel hoax” of a settlement, as the deal was called Monday, had a lot more to say than the NY AG.
“Judge Hellerstein’s ruling today correctly dismantled a settlement that required women to accept being mistreated yet again by accepting small amounts in exchange for releasing Harvey Weinstein and all his enablers,” said Gloria Allred, who is one of the attorneys for Mimi Haley in the matter. “On top of it all, it provided for Harvey Weinstein, his brother and his lawyers to get paid more than the women he abused,” the activist lawyer added. “We will keep fighting for true justice against Weinstein and the system that allowed him to perpetrate his abuse for decades.”
“We have been saying for over a year and a half that the settlement terms and conditions were unfair and should never be imposed on sexual assault survivors,” said attorneys for Wedil David, Dominique Huett, Kaja Sokola, Rowena Chiu, Zelda Perkins, and Tarale Wulff after the plug was pulled on the hearing and the deal today.
Added lawyers Douglas Wigdor, Kevin Mintzer, and Bryan Arbeit: “We were surprised that class counsel and the New York attorney general did not recognize this fact but are pleased that Judge Hellerstein swiftly rejected the one-sided proposal. On behalf of our clients, we look forward to pursuing justice against Harvey Weinstein and his many enablers.”
They will have to get in line.
After a trial that lasted almost two months, on February 24, Weinstein was found guilty by a New York jury of two sex crime felony charges Allegedly suffering from a litany of health issues that saw him in an out of Bellevue Hospital, Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years behind bars on March 11.
Facing a COVID-19 pandemic delayed extradition to LA on a series of rape and sex-crime charges, such as an April 10th added sexual battery by restraint charge, the one-time coronavirus infected Pulp Fiction EP is presently out of isolation and serving his time at the maximum security Wende Correctional Facility near Buffalo. Since his bout with the illness, the 68-year old Weinstein has also been accused of raping a 17-year old in 1994 in a May 29 jury trial seeking suit
Accused by Ashley Judd in a still temporarily halted case, failing to get a sex-trafficking class action tossed out, and the subject of a more recent lawsuit from a woman who says he abused her when she was 16 in 2002, Weinstein is also facing allegations from close to 100 other women who say he sexually assaulted or sexually harassed them.
Weinstein is expect to launch his appeal in the New York criminal case sometime in the next week or so, I hear.