NEW YORK (AP) — The battle lines in Harvey Weinstein’s criminal case grew sharper on Tuesday as the movie mogul pleaded not guilty to rape and criminal sex act charges in New York and his lawyer promised a fight.
A lawyer for Weinstein signaled he would use legal challenges to try to derail the case before it reaches trial, even as signs surfaced that prosecutors are showing their own resolve by continuing to interview potential victims.
The not guilty plea marked Weinstein’s first court appearance since surrendering on May 25 after months of accusations by dozens of women alleging sexual and other misconduct.
Weinstein limped from an SUV and was escorted past a big crowd of journalists before spending a few minutes answering a series of yes and no questions from the judge asking if he understood his rights.
He didn’t stop to speak with journalists or respond to shouted questions and was back in his waiting SUV in just 40 minutes. His attorney, Ben Brafman, told reporters the case was “eminently defensible” based on what they have learned so far about the evidence.
“I think today is the first day of this process. We begin our fight now,” he said, adding his defense would include trying to force prosecutors to drop the case. “If we are successful, there may not be a trial.”
A grand jury indicted Weinstein last week on charges involving two women.
One of the alleged victims in the criminal case, who has not been identified publicly, told investigators that Weinstein cornered her in a hotel room and raped her. The other accuser, former actress Lucia Evans, has gone public with her account of Weinstein forcing her to perform oral sex at his office in 2004.
The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assaults unless they come forward publicly.
The 66-year-old Weinstein has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex, with Brafman challenging the credibility of his alleged victims. The lawyer has said the unidentified woman who accused Weinstein of rape had a decade-long, consensual sexual relationship with him that continued after the alleged 2013 attack.
“As terrible as the crime of rape is, it is equally reprehensible to be falsely accused,” Brafman said.
Prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office reportedly met privately with another woman on Monday after she and two other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Weinstein.
According to the suit, Melissa Thompson had a 2011 business meeting that ended with Weinstein holding her down and raping her in a Manhattan hotel room. Through her law firm, Thompson said she was comfortable with being named publicly.
In court, Brafman seized on the report about the meeting as further proof that his client was the victim of unsubstantiated claims and other prejudicial information he says is being leaked by authorities. Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi told the judge that the information wasn’t leaked by her office.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. has said it was predictable that Weinstein’s camp would attack the integrity of the women and the legal system.
Vance, a Democrat, came under public pressure from women’s groups to prosecute Weinstein after declining to do so in 2015, when an Italian model went to police to say Weinstein had groped her during a meeting.
Police set up a sting in which the woman recorded herself confronting Weinstein and him apologizing for his conduct. But Vance decided there was not enough evidence to bring charges.
Weinstein is out on $1 million bail. A judge ordered the two sides back in court in late September.
By TOM HAYS
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