|Movie producer Harvey Weinstein (C) leaves court after a judge rejected a defence motion to have sexual assault charges against him thrown out. — AFP Photo
NEW YORK — A US judge ruled on Thursday that the sexual assault case against Harvey Weinstein can go ahead, rejecting a defence motion to dismiss the charges facing the disgraced Hollywood mogul who has become the face of the #MeToo movement.
Judge James Burke set the next pre-trial hearing in the criminal case against the 66-year-old Weinstein for March 7.
"We are obviously disappointed that the charges were not dismissed today," Weinstein’s attorney Ben Brafman told reporters after a brief hearing in Manhattan Criminal Court.
Brafman, who had argued that the case should be thrown out because of alleged misconduct by police and prosecutors, said he remained confident that Weinstein will be "completely exonerated" at trial.
"This is not about the MeToo movement," added Brafman, one of America’s most celebrated defense attorneys. "It’s a specific criminal case."
Weinstein, who appeared in court wearing a dark suit and blue tie and did not speak to reporters, is facing five counts over an alleged rape in March 2013 and a forced act of oral sex in 2006.
The producer of Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love and other hit movies insists that all of his sexual liaisons were consensual and is free on US$1million bail after his arrest in May.
Weinstein, a twice-married father of five, could face life in prison if convicted.
He has been accused by more than 80 women of sexual misconduct but is only facing charges in connection with accusations by two women.
Burke dismissed one charge against Weinstein earlier this year but he flatly rejected the defense motion on Thursday to toss out the other five counts.
"The court finds that there is no basis for the defendant’s claim of prosecutorial or law enforcement misconduct in the proceedings," the judge wrote.
"The motion to dismiss on these grounds is denied."
The torrent of accusations that first surfaced against Weinstein in October last year upended the career of one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers, and sparked a major reckoning about harassment in the workplace and the global #MeToo movement.
Around 20 women from the "Time’s Up" movement against sexual harassment attended the 20-minute hearing in the packed Manhattan courtroom.
"I am here to stand with my sisters and with the survivors," said actress Kathy Najimy, who appeared in the comedy Sister Act.
Time’s Up said in a statement it was "relieved that Harvey Weinstein failed in his efforts to avoid accountability for his crimes.
"We look forward to seeing justice served and seeing Harvey Weinstein prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," the group said.
While he failed on Thursday to get all charges dismissed, Brafman did manage to get one count thrown out in October – an accusation by former actress Lucia Evans that Weinstein forced her to engage in an act of oral sex in 2004.
Prosecutors opted not to pursue the charge after it emerged that one detective who worked on the investigation had failed to disclose witness testimony that contradicted Evans’s account.
A friend of Evans said she had heard her say that she had willingly engaged in oral sex with Weinstein to secure a movie role.
Brafman alleged that the detective in question, Nicholas DiGaudio, made other mistakes.
Bennett Gershman, who teaches law at Pace University, said he believes prosecutors have a solid case with the two remaining accusers, no matter what they may have said to Weinstein after the alleged assaults.
"These women saying nice things to Weinstein – would that surprise anybody? You have a hugely powerful man... who literally controlled their reputation and their careers," Gershman said.
"Did they consent or did they consent involuntarily?" he asked. "If these women testify strongly on the witness stand, Weinstein will lose." — AFP