A #MeToo moment: Harvey Weinstein trial set to open

Harvey Weinstein leaves court during his rape trial, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Harvey Weinstein spawned the #MeToo movement. Now, the former film titan is starring in the biggest trial of its era — a landmark moment in a global reckoning that has empowered women while shining a light on power dynamics in workplaces from Hollywood Boulevard to Main Street.

Opening statements and the first witness testimony are expected Wednesday in Weinstein’s New York City rape trial, where the possibility of life in prison looms for the once-celebrated “Pulp Fiction” producer now vilified as a predator by scores of women.

Weinstein’s accusers include some well-known actresses who plan to testify or attend the trial and others who are looking to the New York case for a form of justice because their allegations haven’t resulted in criminal charges.

“This trial is so important because the enormity of Harvey Weinstein’s international power and fame offers an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the rampant abuse of power that permeates our culture on a global level,” actress Jessica Barth said Tuesday.

“Not only the outcome of this trial, but the trial as a whole, is precedent setting,” said Barth, a star of the “Ted” films who says Weinstein once invited her to his hotel suite and demanded a naked massage.

Weinstein’s trial could take more than a month, Judge James Burke said. Judging from an arduous two-week jury selection that netted a panel of seven men and five women, it could be a hotbed of protests and intense media coverage.

Extra court officers have been lining the front of the Manhattan courthouse where Weinstein, 67, has been ambling in and out with a walker that his lawyers say was necessitated by a summer car crash and subsequent back surgery.

In a failed last-minute push to get the trial moved, Weinstein’s lawyers said a flash mob’s chanting “the rapist is you!” at street level could be heard in the courtroom, 15 floors above.

Adding to the drama, actor Cuba Gooding Jr. is due at the same courthouse Wednesday for a hearing in a case in which several women have accused him of groping. He’s denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

Though dozens of women have accused Weinstein of sexually harassing or assaulting them over the years, his New York trial involves just a pair of allegations: that he raped a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and sexually assaulted a different woman in 2006.

Backed by expected testimony from four other accusers, prosecutors will attempt to portray Weinstein as a monster who used his power to ingratiate himself with women, sometimes promising a film role or other career advancement, before sexually assaulting or raping them.

One of them, actress Annabella Sciorra will testify that Weinstein forced himself inside her Manhattan apartment and raped her in 1993 or 1994 after she starred in a film for his movie studio.

While Sciorra’s allegations are outside the statute of limitations for criminal charges, the judge has said her testimony can be used to prove predatory sexual assault charges, which carries a maximum life sentence and requires prosecutors to show a pattern of misconduct.

Weinstein’s lawyers say any encounters were consensual. They plan to go on the offensive, pointing to “dozens and dozens and dozens of loving emails to Mr. Weinstein” they say show he and some of his accusers were in consenting relationships. Defense lawyer Damon Cheronis said some of the women “also bragged about being in a sexual relationship with him.”

Once trailed by whispers in Hollywood circles, Weinstein was met with an explosion of allegations from dozens of women after The New York Times and The New Yorker published separate exposes about his behavior in October 2017.

After opening statements, prosecutors are expected to call a former member of the board of directors at Weinstein’s old movie studio to testify about how the company handled allegations against him.

One issue that has remained unresolved in the trial is the defense’s objection to a juror who wrote an upcoming novel about young women that includes, according to the book’s publicity materials, descriptions of their relationships with predatory older men. If she is removed and replaced as a juror, that’ll leave just two remaining alternates for the trial.

Once the New York trial is over, Weinstein faces additional rape and sexual assault charges in Los Angeles. Those charges were filed this month as jury selection in his New York trial was getting underway.

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Source: Associated Press – MICHAEL R. SISAK and TOM HAYS