Harvey Weinstein appeared without handcuffs in New York Supreme Court this morning and even flashed a faint smile, a big change from his previous sober and shackled appearances in his sexual assault trial.
The fallen moguls more upbeat demeanor suited the outcome of the day. Judge James Burke dismissed one of the six counts against him after the Manhattan D.A. agreed to drop it, and also pushed a key ruling to December, giving the defense more time to fight the charges.
The ditched sexual assault count stemmed from allegations by Lucia Evans, who told the New Yorker a year ago that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex in his office in 2004. At the time, she was a 21-year-old student and aspiring actress.
Weinsteins legal team will have until November 16 to file further motions attacking the remaining charges against him. The judge called a hearing for December 20, when he is expected to rule on those motions, meaning the flagship trial of the #MeToo era will not see serious courtroom action until well into 2019, if indeed it does proceed to trial.
Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, the lead prosecutor in the case, insisted that the agreement to drop the count would have no bearing on the cases resolution. “Nothing in this disclosure impacts the strength of the remaining case and the other five counts,” she said, including the most serious count, for predatory sexual assault. “We are moving full steam ahead.”
Weinsteins lawyer Benjamin Brafman maintained the jettisoned count is a sign that the entire case is built on a weak foundation, one he and the legal team intend to spend the next several weeks undermining. “Some of the most vocal, outspoken critics of Mr. Weinstein have put their opinions into the media” without a legitimate legal claim, he argued. Although Brafman said he has “great respect” for the D.A.s office, “I have deep regret that the thoroughness of the investigation did not prevent them from charging Mr. Weinstein with a crime he did not commit.”
An attorney for Evans told the Associated Press the dropping of the count “says nothing about Weinsteins guilt or innocence.” Rather, “it only speaks volumes about the Manhattan D.A.s office and its mishandling of my clients case.”
A letter dated September 12 that reportedly describes the Evans-Weinstein encounter as consensual will be unsealed later today by the court. Iluzzi-Orbon cited the letter as the key factor in dropping the count.
Todays actions by Burke follows a decision in September to delay trial activity so as to minimize potential interference with the mid-term elections.
Out on $1 million bail after having entered a not-guilty plea to the first round of indictment and surrendering his passport earlier this year, Weinstein was last in court on July 9 to enter another not-guilty plea. That came after the Manhattan D.A.s office slapped him with additional and more damning sex crime charges on July 2.
Those follow-on charges marked an additional count of criminal sexual act for a forcible sexual act that allegedly occurred in 2006. If found guilty, the much accused The Weinstein Company founder could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Brafman asserted again that Weinstein has not committed any crime and said he planned to file an application with the New York Police Department asking the detective who interviewed Evans to be banned from the case. He promised a “very complicated investigation” would be undertaken to review prosecutors remaining charges.
The New York Post, never known for its restraint, blasted out a headline just before the judge dismissed the sexual assault count, wondering if the D.A.s case is “in danger of falling apart.” It hasnt gotten to that point just yet, but for now the momentum appears to be on the Weinstein side.