Fallen movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was expected to plead not guilty Tuesday to rape and sexual assault charges in New York, opening a legal battle for the #MeToo movement that dreams of seeing him behind bars.
The 66-year-old Weinstein was charged with rape and another sex crime in New York late last month, nearly eight months after his career imploded in a blaze of accusations of sexual misconduct.
Harvey Weinstein was due in a Manhattan court at 10 am (1400 GMT) for a formal reading of the charges: he has been indicted for allegedly forcing a woman to perform oral sex on him in 2004, and for allegedly raping another at a Manhattan hotel in 2013.
If convicted, that crime could put him in prison for as many as 25 years.
Two women are named in this indictment. But nearly 100 have said since October they were harassed or sexually abused by Weinstein over several decades.
That has turned the one-time toast of Hollywood into the catalyst of the MeToo movement.
Salma Hayek, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie are among more than two dozen actresses who say they were sexually harassed by the producer. A few, including Asia Argento and Rose McGowan, said they were raped.
The fall of Harvey Weinstein triggered a tsunami in US society as many women came forward with similar accusations against other powerful men in the entertainment world, the media and government.
– New lawsuits –
Benjamin Brafman, Weinstein’s lawyer, is one of America’s most celebrated criminal defense attorneys. His past clients include former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who escaped criminal prosecution for alleged sexual assault in 2011.
No details about the identity of the two accusers were given by the prosecutor.
Brafman said the rape complaint came from a woman who had a 10-year affair with Weinstein, but the information was not confirmed.
The accusation of forced fellatio comes from Lucia Evans, a marketing consultant who, in 2004, was an aspiring actress. She told her story in October to the magazine The New Yorker.
Her story resembles many other reports of unwanted contact from stars such as Ashley Judd or Paltrow.
But especially countless were young unknown or just emerging stars who hoped to see the revered producer make them Hollywood stars.
Evans tells how he spoke of a possible place in his show for aspiring models “Project Runway”, before forcing her into oral sex, and then went about the day as if nothing had happened.
The prosecutor will still have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Weinstein committed illegal acts, and with these two women specifically.
No one, however, expects the lawsuits will be dropped, as was the case for Strauss-Kahn.
Indeed, it is the same Brafman who defended the former IMF director against the same Manhattan prosecutor, Cyrus Vance.
Last week three actresses filed a new lawsuit against Weinstein alleging sexual assault. They urged other victims to come forward and join the complaint.
Melissa Thompson, one of the women filing the class action lawsuit, said she was sexually assaulted by Weinstein during a 2011 meeting to discuss a new marketing tool.
Following public revelations last year about his predatory behavior, Thompson said she was referred to Brafman and another attorney at his firm, Alex Spiro.
“Thompson was led to believe that Brafman and Spiro were representing victims against Weinstein,” said the law firm representing her, Hagens Berman.
“Deceptive tactics were used to entice her to turn over her visual and audio evidence of Weinstein’s conduct (which she did),” it said.
“Melissa did not learn that Brafman was actually then or would later be Weinstein’s lead criminal defense attorney until after turning over the video as evidence.”