Once producer Harvey Weinstein exited a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday, after learning that he would stand trial on sexual assault charges, the group of women — sitting all in a row, breaths held under their identical black T-shirts — finally could exhale. Standing up, the sweaters and blazers they were required to wear in the courtroom no longer fully concealed the shirt’s bold white text: “TIMES UP.”
In May, Weinstein was charged with first- and third-degree rape for an incident with one woman in 2013; and in July, he was indicted on three additional felony sex charges for a 2006 incident involving a second woman. In October, prosecutors decided to drop a single charge, also filed in May, for first-degree criminal sex act — forced oral sex — associated with third accuser. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty. Weinstein’s defense team, led by attorney Benjamin Brafman, had sought to dismiss all the charges, arguing that the case had been “irreparably tainted” by a detective’s alleged coaching of both a potential witness and one of the two remaining accusers. They also claimed the grand jury should have been shown “friendly emails” exchanged between Weinstein and the two accusers after the alleged assault.
Judge James Burke took just 10 minutes to deny Weinstein’s motion to dismiss the five felony sexual assault charges; while he didn’t elaborate on the decision in the courtroom, he did issue a six-page opinion a short time later. The defense’s claims of prosecutorial misconduct had “no basis,” Burke wrote, and he sharply criticized their “speculative” assertion that the charges were a result of political pressure. He also noted that prosecutors were under no obligation to provide the grand jury with evidence favorable to the defendant.
“This court has found the grand jury presentation to be legally sufficient to support the charges and that the proceedings were properly conducted,” read Burke’s opinion detailing the decision. “Dismissal is an exceptional remedy and only available in rare cases.”
Judge Burke has not yet set a trial date, but all parties are due back in court for a pre-trial hearing next March.
Downstairs, Weinstein looked straight ahead and made a beeline for a black SUV, ignoring questions from reporters. The women in the Time’s Up T-shirts — several recognizable for their work in Hollywood, like Marisa Tomei, Jennifer Esposito, Amber Tamblyn and Nia Vardalos — gathered around Lisa Borders, the new president of Time’s Up, on the courthouse steps.
“Today, here in New York, we saw the first steps towards justice,” Borders said after the judge’s ruling. “Frankly, we are relieved that Harvey Weinstein failed in his efforts to avoid accountability for his actions. Together we stand in solidarity with all survivors of sexual assault, everywhere. Please know that we are very interested in ensuring that he is prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And we look forward to seeing you again on March 7th.”
A few feet away, Brafman said he was “obviously disappointed by the ruling.”
“Today’s ruling was a technical ruling on the law, and although disappointed, it does not in any way suggest that the case against Mr. Weinstein is going to end badly,” Brafman told reporters. “To the contrary, based on the evidence that I am aware of, I believe that if we proceed to trial, and I think we will fairly soon, I think Mr. Weinstein will be exonerated. “
Brafman went on to elicit snickers from the crowd of reporters with his characterization, and criticism, of the #MeToo movement.
“If the #MeToo movement helps level the playing field for women around the world, then we are strongly supporting the movement,” Brafman said. “However we should not allow the movement to press a case which is deeply flawed, as we believe the movement has done in this case.”
Moments later, attorney Gloria Allred, who represents one of Weinstein’s accusers, responded to Brafman’s assertion, telling reporters, “This indictment was based on evidence and testimony before the grand jury. . . . It was not based on the #MeToo movement.” She expressed her confidence in the prosecution’s case and praised the Burke’s decision.
“Headlines suggesting that the case is crumbling are incorrect,” she said. “There’s only one person on trial here. It’s not the District Attorney, it’s not the police, it’s Harvey Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein shout have his day in court, but so should the two women who are alleged to be the victims.”