Disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein is moving forward to trial in his Manhattan sexual assault case with a new legal team that includes attorneys who are not based in New York but who have been successful in defending high-profile clients who had been handed harsh judgments in courts of public opinion.
Weinstein, who faces five criminal counts relating to two accuser who say the fallen movie mogul assaulted them in 2006 and 2013, has tapped Jose Baez and Ronald Sullivan Jr. of the Orlando, Florida-based Baez Law Firm to join his defense team, the firm said in an email.
“Mr. Weinstein steadfastly maintains his innocence in this matter and we are looking forward to assisting Mr. Weinstein in his defense,” Baez said in a statement.
According to news reports, Pamela Mackey of Denver-based Haddon, Morgan and Foreman is also joining Weinstein’s defense team. She did not respond to a request for comment.
The announcements of Weinstein’s new lawyers come as he prepares to part ways with prominent criminal defense attorney Benjamin Brafman, a move that left some in the legal community scratching their heads given the fact that Brafman successfully cleared Weinstein of another count relating to a third accuser in the case who said that Weinstein assaulted her in 2004.
Brafman still needs approval from acting Manhattan Supreme Court Justice James Burke to officially withdraw from the case.
Baez is best known for securing an acquittal for Casey Anthony, a young mother who was accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter in 2008 and who prosecutors painted as a callous partygoer who sought to free herself from the obligations of motherhood.
Following a 2011 trial that attracted widespread attention, in which Baez contended that the child died in a swimming pool and that her rattled parents attempted to hide the body, a jury found Anthony not guilty of murder.
Baez and Sullivan have also represented actress Rose McGowan, who has in media statements accused Weinstein of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s. Baez represented McGowan in a Virginia cocaine possession case beginning in 2018. According to the Daily Beast, McGowan called their representation of Weinstein a “major conflict of interest.”
“This is why my case didn’t go to trial—my instinct was my lawyers had been bought off,” McGowan told the Daily Beast.
Additionally, Baez and Sullivan, a Harvard Law School professor who previously headed the Brooklyn district attorney’s conviction review unit under the late Kenneth Thompson, worked together to secure an acquittal for former NFL player Aaron Hernandez in a double-murder case.
As for Mackey, the Los Angeles-based attorney defended NBA superstar Kobe Bryant when he was accused in 2003 of sexually assaulting a hotel employee. The following year, prosecutors decided to drop the case after the accuser refused to come forward to testify.
Barbara Barron, a professor at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University who previously worked for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, said the attorneys’ record of success “says it all” in terms of why Weinstein may have picked them for his defense.
Barron also said that bringing new attorneys into the case may also provide fresh perspectives that could prove advantageous for the client.
Mark Bederow of the Law Office of Mark A. Bederow, also a former Manhattan prosecutor who successfully petitioned a state appeals court in Brooklyn to throw out a 15-year-old murder conviction for John Giuca, said that out-of-town attorneys, while they have proven track records, might have a learning curve in terms of getting to know Burke, local procedures and potential jurors from Manhattan. He also said he found it odd that Weinstein would break away from Brafman when it appeared that Brafman was having some success in the case.
“I think it’s bizarre given who he is replacing and given how well the defense appeared to be doing,” Bederow said. “But ultimately it’s his choice to proceed how he wants and none of us know the reason why the switch was made.”
Weinstein’s remaining charges include two counts of predatory sexual assault, first-degree rape, third-degree rape and first-degree criminal sexual act.
A sixth charge, an additional count of first-degree criminal sexual act, was thrown out after the revelation that a New York City police detective had told a witness to withhold an account of the alleged 2004 sexual assault that didn’t match up with the accuser’s account of the events.
In December, Burke denied a motion to dismiss the five remaining counts against Weinstein.