Who Wants to Defend Harvey Weinstein?

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26: Harvey Weinstein exits the courtroom after a hearing in State Supreme Court on April 26, 2019 in New York City. Weinstein is facing rape and sexual assault charges from two separate incidents. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 03, 2019 12:09 PM

Just about every lawyer would agree that all criminal defendants should have legal representation. And many would jump at the chance to have a celebrity client, even one they suspect might be guilty. But apparently, some big-name clients just aren't worth it.

A revolving door of lawyers representing Harvey Weinstein on sexual assault allegations continues to turn, with one attorney exiting after just six months as counsel, and two more coming aboard last week. So, what's so bad about repping a movie mogul in the #MeToo era?

Runaway Train

"Mr. Weinstein has engaged in behavior that makes this representation unreasonably difficult to carry out effectively," former Weinstein attorney Jose Baez wrote to Manhattan Supreme Court Justice James Burke, "and has insisted upon taking actions with which I have fundamental disagreements." Baez is no lightweight -- he successfully defended both Casey Anthony and Aaron Hernandez on murder charges -- and he became the fifth Weinstein lawyer to leave the case, joining:

  • Attorney Benjamin Brafman, who left in January;
  • Harvard Law Professor Ron Sullivan, who left in May, citing a scheduling conflict;
  • Former federal prosecutor Duncan Levin; and
  • Attorney Pamela Mackey, who also defended Kobe Bryant against sex assault charges.

Weinstein is facing a total of five charges, including rape and sexual assault, and a maximum sentence of life in prison. That's nothing his former lawyers haven't seen before. But maybe this client is. The attorneys have declined to comment publicly on their departure, so Baez's letter is the only hint we have about the reasons for withdrawal. "Mr. Weinstein has been aware since at least May 15 that it was very unlikely that I would be able to continue on this case," Baez told Justice Burke, perhaps referring to a conflicting securities fraud trial he is reportedly working on.

Taking the Reins

Stepping up in their stead are Chicago-based attorneys Donna Rotunno and Damon Cheronis. Rotunno is a former Cook County prosecutor who specializes sex assault cases, and recently said in an interview regarding her defense of men in the #MeToo movement: "I'm not a woman who has ever subscribed to it ... I believe women are responsible for the choices that they make."

It seems she would be a perfect fit for Weinstein's legal team, and we'll find out when his trial begins in September.

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