Harvey Weinstein asks US appeals court to throw out rape conviction

The allegations against disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein helped spark the #MeToo movement. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein asked a New York state appeals court to throw out his sexual-assault conviction and grant him a new trial.

"Weinstein sought no special treatment here, but he expected the trial court to protect his constitutional guarantees," his lawyer Barry Kamins told five appeals court judges during a hearing on Wednesday (Dec 15).

"The trial court had a heightened responsibility to ensure that Mr Weinstein received a fair trial and that possibility was destroyed."

Lawyers for the one-time Hollywood power broker, who is serving a 23-year prison sentence, claimed his February 2020 conviction was based on the rise of the #MeToo movement against sexual violence rather than specific crimes.

They said the trial judge made numerous errors, including allowing women to testify who did not appear in the indictment and blocking testimony from an expert who would have cast doubt on the case.

Mr Kamins also said a biased juror "lied to the court" about the nature of a novel she wrote about older men having relationships with younger women. The lawyer said the juror had an "economic interest" in staying on the panel.

"She wanted to be on this jury," Mr Kamins said.

Some rulings by the trial judge also prevented Weinstein from taking the stand in his own defence, his lawyer said, including a ruling that allowed three women to testify about prior misbehaviour by Weinstein that was not reflected in the charges.

The United States government disputed Mr Kamin's claims during the hearing.

Assistant District Attorney Valerie Figueredo argued that the juror was "entirely honest and candid" about her novel, which Ms Figueredo called a "coming of age story set in the 1980s" and not a "book about sexual relationships or predatory old men", and that it did not prevent her from being fair and impartial.

The panel appeared sceptical about the decision to introduce evidence of Weinstein's prior bad behaviour, with one justice asking if that was not "overkill".

Ms Figueredo argued that the evidence helped to support the allegation that women had not agreed to engage in sexual activity with Weinstein.

"Just because women were coming to him or seeking his professional help, they are not asking for more," she said.

The appeals court judges did not say when they would rule on Weinstein's request for a new trial.

Weinstein, 69, was found guilty of rape and a criminal sexual act, more than two years after allegations that he assaulted numerous women over his decades in the movie industry.

The allegations against him helped spark the #MeToo movement.

Weinstein's conviction more than a year ago followed reports by the New York Times and the New Yorker in 2017 that dozens of women had accused the powerful producer of preying on them, unleashing similar claims against leaders in entertainment, media and other industries.

Weinstein was convicted of a first-degree criminal sexual act for forcing oral sex on Project Runway assistant Miriam Haley in his Soho loft in 2006 and third-degree rape for an attack on actress Jessica Mann in a midtown Manhattan hotel in 2013.

He was cleared of predatory sexual assault, which carries a mandatory term of life in prison, and first-degree rape. He is still facing criminal charges in Los Angeles in a case that could go to trial next year.

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