By MICHAEL R. SISAK
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York appeals court on Thursday upheld Harvey Weinstein’s rape conviction and 23-year prison sentence, rejecting the former movie mogul’s claim that the judge during its landmark #MeToo trial had unfairly allowed women to testify on allegations that weren’t part of the case.
The ruling by a five-judge panel of the state’s Intermediate Court of Appeals upheld one of the most high-profile verdicts to date in the United States’ consideration of sexual misconduct of public figures powerful — an era that began with a flood of allegations against Weinstein.
Weinstein’s publicist, Juda Engelmayer, said he was considering his options and would seek to appeal the decision to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
“We are disappointed, but not surprised,” Engelmayer said.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who took office in January while Weinstein’s appeal was pending, said in a statement that prosecutors are “gratified with today’s decision, which upholds a monumental conviction that changed the way prosecutors and courts approach complex sexual predator prosecutions.”
Weinstein, 70, was convicted in New York in February 2020 of forcibly performing oral sex on TV and film production assistant Mimi Haley in 2006 and raping an aspiring actress in 2013. He was acquitted of first-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault stemming from actor Annabella Sciorra’s allegations of rape in the mid-1990s.
The Associated Press does not generally identify people alleging sexual assault unless they consent to be named; Sciorra spoke publicly about her allegations and Haley agreed to be named.
Weinstein is jailed in California, where he was extradited last year and is awaiting trial for assaulting five women in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills from 2004 to 2013.
Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Haley, Sciorra and another witness, said she was “delighted” that Weinstein’s conviction was upheld and that “the many sacrifices of his clients in the cause of justice” did not have not been in vain.
“Justice has been served,” Allred said. “But now I also look forward to criminal proceedings against Mr. Weinstein in Los Angeles, where I also represent alleged victims for whom charges have been filed.”
Former district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who oversaw the prosecution against Weinstein, told The Associated Press he still had confidence in the strength of the case. He said he was confident that the decisions of trial judge James Burke were fair and would stand on appeal.
“I am also grateful that this decision by the appeals court fully ascribes the powerful testimony of the brave and strong survivors of Mr. Weinstein’s abuse,” Vance said. “Today they are taking another step towards the full closure of the legal process, which they deserve.”
The decision follows several setbacks for women seeking to hold famous men accountable for alleged wrongdoing.
On Wednesday, a Virginia jury found Amber Heard’s abuse allegations against Johnny Depp to be defamatory. In March, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal after a Pennsylvania court threw out Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction.
In Weinstein’s case, the appeals court took an unusually long time to rule – nearly six months after contentious closing arguments last December fueled doubts about the validity of his conviction. The court was due to rule in January.
During the hearing, some judges criticized Burke and prosecutors, suggesting they were willing to overturn Weinstein’s conviction and order a new trial. Judge Sallie Manzanet-Daniels said Burke let prosecutors rack up “incredibly damaging testimony” from additional witnesses.
But, in Thursday’s 45-page ruling, the five judges were unanimous in finding that Burke properly exercised his discretion in allowing testimony from three women who accused Weinstein of raping them but whose allegations did not lead to charges in the New York case.
The judges also agreed with Burke’s decision to let prosecutors confront Weinstein with evidence of other unrelated wrongdoing if he had testified, including whether he blocked a colleague in a foreign country, told people to lie. to his wife or shouted at the restaurant. staff while demanding a late night meal.
The judges, in their ruling, said that although the sheer volume of material – relating to 28 alleged acts of rude behavior over 30 years – was “unquestionably significant, and, on the face of it, perhaps appears disturbing”, Burke correctly weighed its relevance to the case. Weinstein did not take the witness stand.
The panel also rejected Weinstein’s arguments that Burke was wrong on other counts: keeping a juror who wrote a novel involving predatory old men and letting a prosecution expert testify about the victims’ behavior and rape myths. Burke did not allow testimony on similar topics from defense experts.
Rules on calling additional witnesses to testify about “prior wrongdoing” vary by state and were an issue in Cosby’s successful appeal of his Pennsylvania sexual assault conviction. The New York rules, shaped by a decision in a poisoning case in 1901, are among the most restrictive.
At the December hearing, Weinstein’s attorneys argued that the additional testimony went beyond what’s normally allowed — detailing motive, opportunity, intent, or a common pattern or plan — and essentially put the former studio boss on trial for crimes he wasn’t charged with and hadn’t had a chance to defend himself against.
“The jury was overwhelmed with such prejudicial and wrong evidence,” Weinstein’s attorney, Barry Kamins, told the appeals committee. “It was a character trial of Harvey Weinstein. People made him look like a bad person.
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak