NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Harvey Weinstein is shaking up his legal team once again, 60 days before he’s due to stand trial on sexual assault charges in New York.
Weinstein’s new lawyers, Donna Rotunno and Damon Cheronis, both of Chicago, now join Arthur Aidala, a New York City lawyer whose clients have included rapper 50 Cent, former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and the late Fox News chief, Roger Ailes.
“Mr. Weinstein has taken on 18 months or more of the public scrutiny. We are here to hope that the justice system will allow him a fair trial, the opportunity to have the facts be heard,” Rotunno told reporters outside court Thursday. “I think the problem in a case like this, up to this point, is the fact that the emotion of this case has been taken over and common sense has been left outside.”
Weinstein, 67, is charged with raping a woman in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006. He denies the allegations.
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His former attorney, Jose Baez, known for representing high-profile clients, sent a letter to Judge James Burke last month, saying Weinstein had damaged their relationship by communicating only through other lawyers and failing to abide by a fee agreement.
“Mr. Weinstein has engaged in behavior that makes this representation unreasonably difficult to carry out effectively and has insisted upon taking actions with which I have fundamental disagreements,” Baez wrote.
He and Harvard law professor Ronald Sullivan started representing Weinstein in January, when the former movie producer overhauled his legal team for the first time. His original lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, had lost a hard-fought bid to get the case thrown out.
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Sullivan left in May after his involvement in the case drew protests from some students and faculty on the Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus. Buildings were defaced with graffiti that included the slogans “Down w Sullivan!” ”Your Silence is Violence” and “Whose Side Are You On?” and the university removed him from his position as head of a student house citing “concerns about the climate” within the house.
Sullivan wrote about the backlash in a June 24 op-ed in The New York Times, noting that during the 10 years he served as a faculty dean he has represented both sexual assault defendants and accusers in criminal court and student victims in campus Title IX proceedings.
Sullivan said he was “willing to believe that some students felt unsafe” about his involvement in the Weinstein case, but that “feelings alone should not drive university policy.”
“Unchecked emotion has replaced thoughtful reasoning on campus,” he wrote. “Feelings are no longer subjected to evidence, analysis or empirical defense. Angry demands, rather than rigorous arguments, now appear to guide university policy.”
Baez and Sullivan also teamed up to successfully defend New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez against murder charges in 2017. Hernandez, in prison for a 2015 murder conviction, killed himself five days later.
Weinstein’s selection of the pair generated some controversy.
One of Weinstein’s accusers, actress Rose McGowan, blasted Baez and Sullivan for agreeing to represent Weinstein after defending her in a drug case last year.
Actress Rose McGowan, one of the first of dozens of women to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct, called it a “major conflict of interest.”
Baez and Sullivan denied that, saying McGowan’s case had nothing to do with Weinstein. She is not an accuser in his criminal case.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)