Defense Team Calls for Critical Eye on Weinstein Accusers

MANHATTAN (CN) — “Believe women,” the slogan goes. But when it comes to deciding whether to convict Harvey Weinstein of rape, a defense lawyer urged the jury Thursday not to let a fad fill in for flimsy evidence.

Flexing her experience from more than 40 cases where she represented men accused of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era, attorney Donna Rotunno wasted little time summarizing her thoughts on the movement at closing arguments.

“In their universe, women are not responsible for the parties they attend, the men they flirt with, the choices they make for their own careers, the plane tickets they accept,” Rotunno said. “They aren’t even responsible for sitting at their computers and sending an email across the country.”

Harvey Weinstein and his attorney Donna Rotunno arrive at a Manhattan courthouse on Jan. 17, 2020, for jury selection at his rape trial. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Since the trial’s start nearly a month ago, jurors in the case have heard six tearful, graphic and often humiliating accounts from women alleging that Weinstein, who turns 68 in March, forced himself on them against their will.

As Rotunno put it Thursday, however, across nearly five hours of summations, this narrative “strips adult women of common sense, autonomy, and responsibility.”

“In this script, the powerful man is so unattractive and large that no woman would ever want to sleep with him voluntarily,” Rotunno said, addressing the jury of seven men and five women.

Rotunno spent the first three hours of defense closing arguments Thursday focused on the testimony of former “Project Runway” production assistant Mimi Haleyi and aspiring actress Jessica Mann.

She noted that both accusers testified to also having had consensual sex with Weinstein and maintained communication with the producer after their alleged assaults by him.

Rotunno began with Haleyi, who testified that Weinstein lunged at her in his Manhattan apartment in 2006, backed her into a bedroom and forced oral sex on her.

“Of course she tells you that she was certainly not flirtatious, because no one in this case ever acted flirtatious with Mr. Weinstein in any way,” Rotunno said. “You know that Miriam Haley was a flirtatious person because you heard about it from her roommate,” she told jurors.

“For Miriam to say that she never had any intentions with Mr. Weinstein, and she never knew of Mr. Weinstein’s intentions with her is clearly false,” Rotunno said. “Again this is what happens when we don’t look at real time evidence, and we only listen to what someone says when they went into a courtroom.”

Rotunno argued that the district attorney employed some heavy editing to make Haleyi’s consensual sexual relationship with Weinstein fit the prosecution’s case.

“They have to label it as a professional relationship because, if they label it for what it was, we wouldn’t be here,” she said. “All the real-time communication, all the documented evidence, would make any reasonable person say that Miriam Haleyi and Harvey Weinstein were in a relationship.”

Mimi Haleyi appears at a 2017 news conference in New York. She took the witness stand at Weinstein’s trial. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Rotunno pointed to emails from Haleyi to Weinstein in the years after the alleged incidents, showing that she signed off “Lots of love” in one, and “Peace and love” in another after she’d become a Kundalini yoga teacher.

“Not something you do to someone who sexually assaulted you,” Rotunno remarked.

Rotunno also criticized Haleyi for hiring celebrity attorney Gloria Allred to represent her in October 2017.

Allred, who has attended most of the hearings during the trial, was sitting in the front row on the prosecution’s side of the gallery as Rotunno spoke about her.

“She doesn’t sit here because it’s fun for her,” Rotunno said about Allred. “She sits there because there’s a pot of gold at the end of this trial.”

The attorney next turned to the testimony of Mann, saying the complicated, yearslong relationship that the 34-year-old former hairstylist had with Weinstein since 2013 makes its problematic for her to label him her rapist.

“She made a choice that she wanted to be in his world,” Rotunno said about Mann,  who claims Weinstein raped her in March 2013 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. “She made a choice that she wanted the life that he could potentially provide for her,” Rotunno said.

The DoubleTree is “not a hotel he would normally stay in,” Rotunno noted, but she said Weinstein went there to visit Mann during a New York visit because the two had for weeks been carrying on extramarital but consensual sexual relationship in Los Angeles.

If she didn’t want to, Rotunno insisted, Mann had the agency not to have sex with Weinstein at the DoubleTree.

“In the world that they create, they want you to believe she didn’t have the choice,” Rotunno said. “Ladies and gentlemen, she had her own room. She had her own key.”

Rotunno cited emails that Mann had sent after the alleged rape in New York, in which she told Weinstein “Miss you big guy.” Over the years, Mann also took care repeatedly to make sure Weinstein had each of her new phone numbers.

Rotunno additionally referenced one message where Mann told a friend that she had been “blowing a super rich Hollywood producer.”

“This is not the way you would characterize your relationship with your rapist,” Rotunno said.

Rotunno noted that, years after the DoubleTree incident, Mann continued to attend Oscars parties hosted by The Weinstein Company.

“She wore this like a badge of honor,” Rotunno said.

Rotunno urged jurors to place of the burden of proof on the prosecution. “Just because Mr. Weinstein was indicted does not change that he’s entitled to that presumption of innocence,” she said.

“Whatever your verdict may be, it must not rest upon baseless speculations,” Rotunno told the jurors. “Nor may it be influenced in any way by bias, prejudice, sympathy or by a desire to bring an end to your deliberations or to avoid an unpleasant duty.”

Toward the end of the day, Rotunno asked that the jury use their “New York City common sense” to the make the final call on Weinstein.

“You have seen and you heard the evidence,” she said. “You know now what you did not know when you walked in: Harvey Weinstein is not guilty of these charges,” she said.

“The state has failed to meet their burden, and you don’t have to feel sorry for them,” Rotunno told jurors as she wound down the defense’s arguments Thursday afternoon.

When the trial began over a month ago, Manhattan Supreme Judge James Burke told potential jurors that the trial against Weinstein was “not a referendum on the #MeToo movement.”

The prosecution’s closing arguments are expected to be delivered Friday by Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon.

Illuzzi-Orbon prosecuted former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn for sexual assault back in 2011 but ultimately recommended dismissal of the indictment after concluding that the accuser’s account was not credible.

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