Harvey Weinstein appeals rape conviction, says he was denied fair trial

Harvey Weinstein was convicted in February 2020 of a first-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape.
Harvey Weinstein was convicted in February 2020 of a first-degree criminal sexual act and third-degree rape.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein asked a New York state appeals court to toss out his sexual assault conviction, arguing he was denied a fair trial in a fraught case that became an emblem of the #MeToo movement.

Weinstein, who is serving a 23-year prison sentence, says he was tried and convicted in the turmoil of that moment rather than for the specific crimes with which he was charged.

"The vast majority of the allegations described so-called inappropriate, but non-criminal behaviour," defence attorney Barry Kamins said in the filing, according to a copy provided by his law firm on Monday (April 5).

"A man who once stood as a giant in Hollywood is now scorned and treated as a pariah," Mr Kamins added.

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.

But Weinstein's lawyers argue that the judge made numerous errors, allowing the testimony of three women who did not even appear in the indictment, blocking expert witness testimony that could have cast doubt on the case and permitting charges that were filed too late - all of which they describe as the result of a vendetta by "advocacy journalists" and an overeager district attorney.

Mr Douglas Wigdor, who represents seven Weinstein accusers, including one who testified at the trial, said the appeal is a "desperate attempt to undo a fair trial" and that "we are confident the appeal will not alter his conviction and sentence".

Mr Danny Frost, a spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, said in an e-mail: "We will respond in our brief to the court."

The appeal has little chance of succeeding, said Mr Michael Weinstein, a former prosecutor who is not involved in the case.

"At this post-conviction stage, the standards required to outright overturn a conviction on appeal are daunting, and infrequent," he said.

Weinstein's lawyers also claim their client's right to a fair trial was undermined by an unruly courthouse surrounded by protesters and by a juror they say was biased and lied about the nature of an autobiographical book she wrote. They failed to block her from the jury after establishing in court that her book was about predatory older men having sexual relationships with younger women.

The author "was unqualified to sit as a juror at Mr Weinstein's trial from the start and should have been excused for cause", they said in the filing.

Weinstein was convicted in February 2020 of a first-degree criminal sexual act for forcing oral sex on former production assistant Miriam Haley in his SoHo loft in 2006 and third-degree rape for an attack on former actress Jessica Mann in a midtown Manhattan hotel in 2013. He is serving his sentence in an upstate New York prison.

He was acquitted of two other counts - predatory sexual assault, which carries a maximum term of life behind bars, and first-degree rape, which requires proof of "forcible compulsion". Third-degree rape involves the victim's "lack of consent". He is still facing criminal charges in Los Angeles.