MANHATTAN (CN) – Attorneys for Harvey Weinstein made little headway Wednesday in their bid to nix sex-trafficking claims against the disgraced movie mogul.
U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ended the hearing in New York today without a ruling but appeared skeptical of arguments by defense attorney Elior Shiloh that Weinstein’s accusers did not argue the “critical element” of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act: namely, an exchange of commercial value.
Actress-producer Louisette Geiss is the lead accuser in the case, one of many lawsuits that says members of the Weinstein Co. board facilitated a sex enterprise that allowed Weinstein to regularly assault and abuse women he met under the premises of pursuing work in the movie business.
Geiss wants to represent a class of similarly situated women. Her attorney, Elizabeth Fagen at Hagens Berman, argued Wednesday that there was “absolutely a value and a commercial value” exchanged between Weinstein and the women he assaulted.
Each of the women met with Weinstein initially for “a contract, a deal, or a job,” Fagen told the court.
Hellerstein noted that the allegations leveled against Weinstein are “not a typical prostitution deal, but there is something of value and it does seem to fit the statute.”
Summarizing the allegations against the Weinstein Co., Hellerstein said the directors are believed to have “indulged his appetite.”
“I will concede that the company knew that Harvey Weinstein was engaging in sex, and that it was unwanted sex and they kept him on,” Hellerstein said at Wednesday’s hearing.
Calling it “an aiding-and-abetting issue,” Hellerstein remarked that Weinstein’s employees could be complicit in the alleged trafficking claims only if they shared the mindset and the purpose of the perpetrator.
Hellerstein questioned what personal benefits Weinstein’s employees stood to gain from participation in the alleged sex-trafficking acts.
Weinstein’s attorney Elior Shiloh, a partner at Lewis Brisbois, argued that the forced sex acts alleged by Weinstein’s accusers should be seen as assaults, not sex trafficking.
Shiloh cautioned multiple times during Wednesday’s hearing that allowing the sex-trafficking claims to proceed would be “opening the door” for accusers to treat any meetings with anyone rich, famous or important as potential settings for sex-trafficking allegations.
Marvin Putnam, an attorney for Miramax and former Weinstein board member Tim Sarnoff, said that the claims “conflate everything” without offering specific allegations of actual knowledge by the non-Weinstein board members in furtherance of the sex-trafficking claims.
Two other judges in the Southern District of New York, U.S. District Judges Judge Paul Engelmayer and Judge Robert Sweet, have both allowed separate sex-trafficking lawsuits to move proceed against Weinstein in the last year.
In a case against Weinstein led by aspiring actress Kadian Noble, Weinstein’s attorneys want to appeal Sweet’s ruling to the Second Circuit.
Judge Engelmayer meanwhile advanced the suit against Weinstein by Alexandra Canosa, a former consultant who says Weinstein raped, intimidated and harassed her on multiple occasions from 2010 to 2017.
Weinstein’s criminal sexual assault trial before Justice James Burke in Manhattan Supreme Court is scheduled for June 3.
Weinstein has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in the multiple pending lawsuits.