In Depth

Harvey Weinstein trial: who are the main figures?

Outspoken judge and serial defender of men accused of abuse to take centre stage

Harvey Weinstein was a “sexual predator and rapist” who exploited his power and influence in the film industry to groom and attack young women, state prosecutors claimed yesterday. 

The trial of the 67-year-old Hollywood mogul has begun in New York with graphic prosecution statements describing his alleged offences.

Prosecutor Meghan Hast claimed that Weinstein was a “seasoned” sexual predator for whom vulnerable actresses were prey. She added that “at the end of this trial the evidence will be clear that the man seated right there was not a titan in Hollywood, he was a rapist”. 

Here are the main players, and allegations, in the trial against Weinstein.

Harvey Weinstein

Once a celebrated Hollywood producer, Weinstein has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 80 women in recent years.

The allegations first surfaced following reports in The New York Times and The New Yorker in October 2017, in which more than a dozen women claimed that he had sexually harassed, assaulted or raped them. The accusations helped spark the global #MeToo movement.

Six women will testify at the trial in New York. Weinstein has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and denies the five charges he faces, including rape and sexual assault.

Judge James Burke

Burke is a judge for the New York City Criminal Court of New York County and an acting justice for the First District of the New York Supreme Court. He has a reputation for being outspoken.

According to the BBC, Weinstein’s defence lawyers asked Burke to step down from the case, accusing him of “bias” because of allegedly “prejudicial and inflammatory” comments made during the jury selection. 

After the judge admonished Weinstein for breaking rules by using a mobile phone in the Manhattan Criminal Court, his defence team said Burke’s comments “reflect the court’s animus towards the defendant”.

They added that the rebuke “created a situation in which the court’s ‘impartiality might reasonably be questioned’”.

Joan Illuzzi-Orbon

The chief prosecutor is from Staten Island and has worked in the district attorney’s office since graduating from St John’s University School of Law in 1988.

The Hollywood Reporter describes her as a “deft lawyer with a record of high-profile convictions”. The most famous of those came when she secured the conviction of Pedro Hernandez for the 1979 kidnapping and murder of six-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared on his way to school in New York.

The Weinstein team

Weinstein is being represented by Chicago attorney Donna Rotunno, who NPR says has “made a career defending men accused of sexual misconduct”. Rotunno is also known for being outspoken, saying of the #MeToo movement: “I think that women need to be heard, which is different than women needing to be believed.”

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Damon Cheronis is also on Weinstein’s defence team. A frequent collaborator with Rotunno, Vanity Fair says the pair met at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. According to the magazine, Cheronis was sitting by a hotel pool in Las Vegas when Rotunno offered him the chance to join her for the Weinstein case. He said: “She goes, ‘Yeah, do you want to try the Weinstein case with me?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah! Why not?’”

Other members of the team include Arthur Aidala, Diana Fabi-Samson and Barry Kamins. A lifelong Brooklynite, Aidala started his career as a New York prosecutor in the early 1990s and went on to work for 12 years as a legal analyst for Fox News.

Meanwhile, Fabi-Samson has only recently returned to work after raising four children. “It’s fun to be working again and to be challenged,” she said of the case. Kamins is a 75-year-old retired judge who teaches at Brooklyn Law School. “It’s an interesting case from a legal point of view,” said Kamins of the Weinstein trial.

The prosecution witnesses

Mimi Haleyi was a production assistant at Weinstein’s company and claims that in 2006 Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her at his Soho apartment. Calling Weinstein “extremely persistent and physically overpowering”, Haleyi described herself as “mortified… in disbelief and disgusted” by the alleged events, according to The Guardian.

Haleyi has also claimed that Weinstein continued to approach her after the night in question, including during the Cannes Film Festival and at her New York apartment.

Annabella Sciorra, an actress who has appeared in The Sopranos, says she was “violently and forcibly raped” by Weinstein in the winter of 1993-94, leaving her “emotionally and physically destroyed”, Vulture reports.

The New York Times adds that “on another occasion, he [Weinstein] showed up uninvited outside the hotel room of the actress Annabella Sciorra… in his underwear, with baby oil in one hand and a videotape in the other”.

The final witness is Jessica Mann. Variety reports that although she is not a famous actress, in a few days “her words will be broadcast around the world, as the star witness” in the trial.

She alleges that Weinstein raped her several times, once leaving her like a “rag doll” in her hotel room in March 2013. Mann, who is now a hairdresser, also claims that after the hotel rape, she found a needle in the bathroom that made her believe Weinstein had injected himself in order to get an erection.

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