A defense lawyer for Harvey Weinstein told jurors Monday that the once-renowned movie producer regularly engaged in “transactional sex” with women looking to break into Hollywood, part of a widely accepted “casting couch” culture that traded sex for access but was always consensual.
“You’ll learn that in Hollywood, sex was a commodity. … Everyone did it. He did it. They did it. Because each wanted something from another,” Mark Werksman said in his opening statement. The sex “may have been unpleasant” and “might be embarrassing,” Werksman said, but it was consensual.
He told jurors to look at Weinstein, who was sitting at the defense table wearing a dark suit and blue tie.
“He’s not Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Do you think those beautiful women had sex with him because he’s hot? No. They did it because he was powerful,” Werksman said.
Werksman said Weinstein is charged with crimes involving two women who completely fabricated their encounters with him. Two others who accuse him are lying about consensual encounters, Werksman said, including Jennifer Siebel Newsom, wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). If Siebel Newsom wasn’t married to the governor and pushing herself as a leader in the #MeToo movement, “she’d be just another bimbo who slept with Harvey Weinstein to get ahead in Hollywood.”
Werskman said Siebel Newsom testified before a grand jury that she faked an orgasm with Weinstein, which Werksman said “did not communicate a lack of consent.”
“Just the opposite,” Werksman said, adding that instead of saying “no, no, no, no,” Siebel Newsom said, “yes, yes, yes, yes.”
Weinstein “actually and reasonably believed that she had consented,” Werksman said.
Werksman also shared emails Siebel Newsom sent Weinstein after the alleged attack, discussing campaign donations and social gatherings.
“She brought her husband to meet and party with the man who raped her. Who does that?” Wersksman said. And Gov. Newsom “took money from his wife’s rapist to advance political campaigns?”
“That’s the type of stuff you’re dealing with in this case,” Werksman said. He warned told the group of 20, which includes eight alternates, that they’ll hear questions asked of the accusers that “would be shocking and offensive if we weren’t in a courtroom” but that their service as jurors “precludes you from being offended by any questions we must ask.”
Werksman told the jury that the expert hired by prosecutors “will testify that your common sense is wrong”, and that the four women who will testify as “other bad act” witnesses are being called “in order to confuse and overwhelm you.”
Werksman’s opening followed a 75-minute opening by Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Paul Thompson. Weinstein nodded with approval as Werksman sat back down at the defense table with co-counsel Alan Jackson.
Werksman began by telling the jury, “That was some opening statement you heard this morning from the prosecution.”
“You might be wondering if everything they said is true, what’s the point in having a trial?” he asked, before telling them that the “prosecution’s case is a fire hose.”
It’s “designed to shock and awe” and it’s “designed to blow Mr. Weinstein out of his chair.” But the evidence will show each allegation is a “weak and unsubstantiated trickle that will evaporate upon your close scrutiny.”
Werksman said the “massive size of the case and the vast number of accusers” is not because of a careful investigation and a fact-driven prosecution, but can instead “can be traced directly to a movement called the #MeToo movement.”
“An asteroid called the #MeToo movement hit Earth with such ferocity that everything changed overnight. And Mr. Weinstein became the epicenter of the #MeToo movement,” he said, calling his client “Hollywood’s Chernobyl.”
“In every epic drama, there has to be a bad guy, right? And he’s it,” Werksman said. But Weinstein’s accusers’ “hypocrisy will be on full display,” as they flocked to Weinstein and “willfully played the game” with a man who was like the “King Midas” of the film industry.
“Everything he touched turned to gold,” Werksman said.
Werksman said prosecutors have no eyewitnesses to the alleged assaults, nor do they have surveillance footage showing anything improper.
“At its heart, each and everyone of these allegations is going to boil down to the accusers saying ‘believe me,'” he said.
Jane Doe 1 entered the courtroom about 2:45 p.m. Monday, taking deep breaths and walking with her firsts balled up. A Russian interpreter translated some of the questions, as Thompson asked her to describe meeting Weinstein in the VIP room at the Los Angeles Italia Film Festival. She said she “barely” spoke to him and was surprised when he showed up at her hotel asking for her later that night. She didn’t want to see him, but he came up to her room said he wanted to talk.
“He started talking and he say to talk about myself and the situation was strange. We talk about my kids. We talk about his kids. I was showing the pictures almost all the time because it was helping me to talk, but it was awkward. It was really a bad situation because my Mom was dying of cancer. She survived, but at that point I didn’t know,” she said.
She said she told Weinstein she din’t want to have sex, but “he didn’t care” and took off his pants. She described him as “really arrogant” and said she felt dehumanized. She began crying as she spoke about him trying to force her to perform oral sex, saying she was “crying, choking.” She started sobbing as Thompson asked where Weinstein’s hands were, and Judge Lisa B. Lench ended court about 4:05 p.m., 25 minutes earlier, when it became clear she was inconsolable. Werksman sank a bit in his seat as the woman sobbed, and he and Weinstein looked uncomfortably down at the defense table. It’s unclear if Werksman or Jackson will cross-examine Jane Doe 1.
The woman is to retake the witness stand at 9:30 a.m. Weinstein is in custody, serving 23 years for sexual assault and third-degree rape convictions out of New York.
This article was compiled in part from a pool report organized by The Associated Press. Today’s report was by James Queally of the Los Angeles Times.
[Image via Etienne Laurent-Pool/Getty Images]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]