Jose Baez, a former lawyer for now-convicted felon Harvey Weinstein, ripped into the defense on Monday. He said he was “shocked” they lost a winnable case, argued that one of the attorneys lacked experience for jury selection. He also called their media handling “deplorable.”
Monday brought a mixed verdict for the defendant in New York City. Jurors acquitted the 67-year-old on the more serious counts, but found him guilty of lesser charges in the sexual assault of former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, and rape of former actress Jessica Mann. As in any controversial case, pundits are making their postmortems as to what went wrong for the losing side. That’s no surprise. What’s striking is that one of the defense’s biggest public critics was their predecessor.
Baez is no stranger to representing infamous defendants and social pariahs who were already considered guilty in public. He won acquittals for Florida woman Casey Anthony and late NFL player Aaron Hernandez in murder trials. Weinstein hired him to replace Benjamin Brafman in the Manhattan case, but that working relationship didn’t last long. The movie mogul replaced Baez and his team with lawyers including Donna Rotunno, and Damon Cheronis.
Baez had lot to say about the case in an appearance Monday on the Law&Crime Network. Baez said he was “shocked” by the verdict.
“Completely, totally, and absolutely 100 percent shocked,” he told host Linda Kenney Baden. (Baden used to be involved in the case, and has said Baez had brought her on to give an opinion on something.) “I thought this case was a very winnable case for the defense. I thought they were going to pull it off,” he said.
Rotunno and Cheronis argued at trial that that Weinstein’s relationships with Haleyi and Mann only involved consensual encounters, and that the alleged victims used him for professional goals.
Baez argued the defense made a number of mistakes.
“I think the case was lost at jury selection,” he said, arguing that Illinois-based attorney Rotunno lacked the experience to handle a jury selection.
“It’s my understanding that Donna Rotunno did the first round of jury selection,” he said, adding that this surprised him because she’s from Illinois, where there isn’t attorney-conducted voir dire. Baez criticized the suggestion that Weinstein would possibly benefit from having a woman spearhead the defense (Baden agreed).
“This is not a knock on Donna in any way, shape or form,” he said. “It’s just you’ve got to see these things coming, and you need to have people with experience in these types of cases.”
To be clear, Rotunno made a name for herself defending men accused of sexual misconduct. But bottom line, Baez argued that the defense mishandled the process, and failed to keep a certain female juror off the case. (Juror 11 was writing a book about “predatory older men.”) He suggested that the Mann case was the weak link in the prosecution, and that the state only won a conviction because of the selection of jurors.
“During jury selection, you obviously had a jury that would not bond with you or your client, and was going to buy the state’s case hook, line and sinker especially with someone who had as much baggage as Jessica Mann did,” he said.
Rotunno and co made regular regular appearances in the media. Baez called their media handling “deplorable.”
“And I hate saying that and criticizing my colleagues like that, but you’re busy,” he said. “There’s a lot going during the trial, and to do that much media, it was shocking to me. You really need to focus on the actual trial. That’s your job.” Baez suggested the possibility that the client might have initiated this, but he maintained that if that’s true, the lawyers should’ve voiced their objections. He argued that statements made outside of court could alienate jurors.
Rotunno has repeatedly asserted that Weinstein had been pre-judged in the media, and in public. The defense didn’t convince Judge James Burke to sequester the jury. Rotunno has suggested the possibility of coverage and outside pressures getting to the jurors.
Weinstein spokesman Juda Engelmayer appeared on the Law&Crime Network shortly after the Baez interview. Baden asked him about Baez’s comments critical of the team’s media handling.
“See, I don’t know if that affected us to the jury,” Engelmayer said. “I think the problem that we had, and the reason Donna went out there was because we were constantly being pressured by the negative media–by the opposition media–by 80 people out there who made complaints against Harvey, and then all the people who were on the bandwagon, saying ‘Harvey has to pay. Harvey has to pay.’ And there wasn’t anybody saying anything on Harvey’s narrative side, and I think Donna felt that it’s just not fair for us not to be able to speak.”
Law&Crime has touched base with the Weinstein team regarding Baez’s interview. They have not immediately provided a comment.
Sentencing is set for March 11. The defense has said they’re going to appeal the conviction.
[Screengrab via Law&Crime Network]