A female lawyer from Chicago who specializes in defending men accused of sex crimes said she would be able to “get away” with tougher cross-examination of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers just moments after a Manhattan judge cleared her Thursday to take over the ex-film mogul’s defense.
“I think he has been railroaded,” the new defense attorney, Donna Rotunno, told reporters. “I think it’s a little more effective to have a woman asking a woman questions. I think I can come across in a way that might not seem bullying or offensive.”
Weinstein, 66, is scheduled to go to trial in September on charges that he forced Mimi Haleyi, a production aide at his movie company, to perform oral sex on him in 2006, and that he raped an unnamed woman in 2013. Prosecutors are also expected to call other women who experienced similar treatment to buttress their case.
He has switched defense lawyers twice, earlier replacing Ben Brafman, a high-profile Manhattan lawyer, with Jose Baez, who successfully defended Casey Anthony, the Florida woman accused of killing her daughter. Baez was excused Thursday by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice James Burke amid reports of friction with Weinstein.
In addition to Rotunno, Weinstein’s legal team now includes Damon Cheronis, also from Chicago, and New York defense lawyer Arthur Aidala.
Rotunno said she hopes to show jurors emails and other evidence to prove that Weinstein’s accusers engaged in consensual sex.
“We will hear the other side,” she said. “There is a truth that you have not reported on. … As this trial progresses you will hear things about multiple conversations and emails that will lead you to believe that the facts reported up to this point are not the full story.”
Prosecutors are planning to call an expert to testify that cordial relations between sex crime victims and their attackers after an incident do not reliably show consent, but Rotunno said she would be ready. “I’m not concerned,” she said.
Rotunno, in published comments, has been a critic of the #Me Too movement, complaining that it may encourage women to not take responsibility for their own choices.
But after her news conference, Gloria Allred, Haleyi’s attorney, took over the microphones to question that view. “When a woman goes to a man’s hotel room, it does not give him a license to rape and then blame the victim because she went to his hotel room,” Allred said.
She also said Rotunno should not count on being able to get away with attacking victims in cross-examination just because she is a woman in front of a New York jury.
“They may not agree that she gets a pass to do that,” Allred said. “A bully is a bully, regardless of their gender.”