More than a year after Harvey Weinstein’s rape conviction, his lawyers are demanding a new trial, arguing in court papers Monday that the landmark #MeToo prosecution that put him behind bars was buoyed by improper rulings from a judge who was “cavalier” in protecting the disgraced movie mogul’s right to a fair trial.
In a 166-page brief filed with a state appellate court, Weinstein’s lawyers took repeated aim at Manhattan Judge James Burke, arguing that he swayed the trial’s outcome with repeated rulings favorable to prosecutors — including a decision allowing additional accusers to testify about allegations that never led to criminal charges.
Weinstein’s lawyers also challenged Burke’s refusal to remove a juror who had written a novel involving predatory older men, as well as his decision to allow prosecutors to have an expert on victim behavior and rape myths testify while rejecting testimony on similar subjects from defense experts.
“Mr. Weinstein had a right to a fair trial by an impartial jury,” lawyers Barry Kamins, John Leventhal and Diana Fabi-Samson wrote in the brief.
“The trial court should have exercised the utmost vigilance in protecting this most important right of the defendant,” they wrote. “Instead, the trial court was cavalier in its obligation to safeguard this right and the consequences for Mr. Weinstein were disastrous.”
Weinstein, 69, was convicted in February 2020 of a criminal sex act for forcibly performing oral sex on a TV and film production assistant in 2006 and rape in the third degree for an attack on an aspiring actress in 2013.
He was acquitted of first-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault stemming from actor Annabella Sciorra’s allegations of a mid-1990s rape — testimony that his lawyers said Monday was so dated it should never have been allowed.
Burke sentenced Weinstein to 23 years in state prison, which his lawyers argued Monday was “unduly harsh and excessive.” Given his previously clean criminal record, renowned career as an Oscar-winning movie producer and history of charitable giving, Weinstein’s lawyers argued he deserved a significantly lighter sentence.
Weinstein is also charged in California with assaulting five women in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills from 2004 to 2013. His extradition has been delayed because of the pandemic. Weinstein tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after arriving at the maximum security Wende Correctional Facility near Buffalo last spring.