Harvey Weinstein request to change lawyers is granted


NEW YORK (AFP) - A US judge granted Harvey Weinstein's request on Friday (Jan 25) to take on new lawyers to defend him against sexual assault charges, noting that two of them recently represented one of the Hollywood mogul's most high-profile accusers.

Weinstein, who denies allegations of sexual misconduct by dozens of women, is switching from Ben Brafman to a team that includes Florida trial lawyer Jose Baez and Harvard Law professor Ronald Sullivan, both of whom defended actress Rose McGowan in a drug case last year.

McGowan was one of the first accusers to make public allegations about Weinstein, triggering his downfall in 2017 and the emergence of the powerful #MeToo anti-abuse movement that has since felled many public figures.

She has claimed that Weinstein had someone plant cocaine that authorities found in her wallet.

"If Rose McGowan was called to testify at your trial... the attorneys may not use any information they may have learned in representing her," New York judge James Burke warned Weinstein, who was dressed in a dark grey suit and black tie.

"Do you understand they might not cross-examine Ms McGowan as vigorously as other attorneys might have?" he added, to which the 66-year-old acquiesced.

Sullivan and Baez indicated they were aware of the restrictions they face in the case.

"I have been messed with every step of the way in this fight against a super predator. So much evil, so much complicity," McGowan said on Twitter.

"This case is a test of the presumption of innocence - he should be entitled to the same presumption as everyone else," Baez said outside the courtroom.

Baez gained attention for his 2008 acquittal of Casey Anthony, a mother charged with the murder of her daughter, and Sullivan is considered a specialist in criminal cases deemed "impossible" to defend.

The judge's warnings relate to a key question ahead of Weinstein's trial: which women will be authorized to testify against him.

Since October 2017, Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by more than 80 women, including prominent actresses such as Ashley Judd and Angelina Jolie.

The case brought in New York - focused on the alleged assaults on two women - is the only one that has resulted in criminal proceedings against Weinstein.

The next hearing is scheduled for March 8 - after a one-day delay - and the Weinstein trial could begin in May.