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.”
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.”
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.