CHICAGO (CN) – Rose McGowan’s former attorneys sued her for defamation Tuesday, arguing the actress has been falsely claiming they pressured her into pleading no contest to possessing cocaine that she says was planted on her by associates of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
The 30-page complaint filed in Cook County Circuit Court by Jose Baez and his namesake law office claims McGowan’s accusations of coercion, including those published on social media website LinkedIn, are “utterly false, public declarations.”
“Despite her misguided effort to blame plaintiffs for her own criminal conduct, the fact is McGowan possessed cocaine in her wallet, while on an airplane in Virginia, and the evidence against her was overwhelming,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit claims McGowan was aware of the damning case against her and entered a willful, knowing guilty plea, but realizing the harm to her reputation and her ability to promote her new book, “concocted a malicious scheme” to salvage her reputation in part by suggesting publicly that Baez and others coerced McGowan’s guilty plea at the behest of Weinstein.
McGowan has accused the former film producer of raping her, and she has become of the most outspoken figures in the Me Too movement.
Tuesday’s complaint asserts that Baez and his firm were not involved in McGowan’s plea discussions and did not even advise her on the matter. The suit also names as a defendant the Salvatore Prescott & Porter firm, which represented McGowan in her Virginia criminal proceedings at the time of her plea, claiming the firm violated federal rules by failing to investigate McGowan’s coercion claim and publishing the federal complaint on LinkedIn.
Joe Tacopina, representing Baez with New York-based firm Tacopina, Seigel & DeOreo, said in a phone call Tuesday that the complaint speaks for itself but called the situation “a very, very clear cut case of defamation.”
Virginia prosecutors said cocaine was found in McGowan’s Chanel purse left on a January 2017 flight into Washington Dulles International Airport. McGowan was indicted by a Virginia grand jury on possession charges in June 2018 and entered a no contest plea in January 2019.
McGowan has maintained that the drugs were planted, possibly by an associate of Weinstein as part of an attempted smear campaign.
Baez’s suit asserts that he and his firm were not retained by McGowan in her Virginia case until May 2018, at which point McGowan’s other counsel had already been negotiating a plea deal for two months. After McGowan was indicted, Baez and his firm had nothing to do with any plea negotiations, not even being copied on emails on the matter between McGowan and her other attorneys.
These emails, the complaint states, “demonstrate that McGowan ultimately accepted the plea due to her desire to resolve the case through a plea agreement from its outset—before plaintiffs were ever involved in the case.”
The lawsuit does concede that Weinstein hired Baez and his firm to represent him in a high-profile criminal case in New York arising from multiple alleged sex crimes, a case in which McGowan is not an alleged victim. The complaint says an ethics attorney was consulted and stated it was permissible for Baez to represent Weinstein despite McGowan’s allegations against him.
The complaint goes on to state that Baez and his firm withdrew as Weinstein’s counsel in his New York criminal case in July 2019.
McGowan alleged Baez and his firm made an about-face in representing Weinstein after representing her, further alleging to publications such as the New York Times and the Daily Beast that Weinstein had effectively bought off Baez and his firm in order to sully McGowan and her allegations against the movie mogul.
Tuesday’s complaint quotes McGowan as telling the New York Times that Baez is a “truly terrible human being and a disgrace of a lawyer.”
Baez and his firm are asking the court for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, among other relief, for what they call McGowan’s “highly egregious and reprehensible conduct.”
McGowan became a prominent figure during a tidal wave of sexual assault allegations from several actresses against Weinstein in late 2017. McGowan has alleged that Weinstein raped her in a hotel room in 1997 and offered her $1 million in hush money as recently as September 2017.
Weinstein’s New York criminal case is about to go to trial in Manhattan. The case stems from two counts of predatory sexual assault, two counts of rape and one count of criminal sexual assault levied against Weinstein by three women. Opening statements in the trial are expected to begin Wednesday.