Harvey Weinstein to face accusers in LA trial

When Harvey Weinstein surrendered in 2018 to face charges of rape and sexual assault, he stood defiant, marching into a downtown Manhattan police precinct carrying a biography of a famous Hollywood figure who had become a pariah in the film industry.

The years since have left Weinstein, 70, a disgraced, debilitated shell of the pugnacious movie titan he once was. Now a convicted rapist, he is serving a 23-year sentence in a New York prison and had to settle a multimillion-dollar civil suit filed by dozens of his accusers.

The production company that bore Weinstein’s name has ceased to exist and his body is failing. He spends most of his time in a wheelchair, and his attorneys have previously described him as “technically blind” and recently said his teeth are rotting.

It is this version of Weinstein who will occupy a courtroom in Los Angeles — the city from which he derived so much of his power — this month for the start of a trial that could put him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Weinstein faces 11 counts of sexual assault stemming from allegations by five women that he abused them in high-end Westside hotels between 2004 and 2013. If convicted, he faces a sentence of up to 135 years to life, prosecutors said. Jury selection, which is expected to last two weeks, begins Monday.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office initially charged Weinstein in early 2020, but the criminal proceedings were put on hold until the completion of the one-time mogul’s New York trial.

Weinstein has repeatedly denied assaulting any women and insisted that all of his encounters with his accusers were consensual.

Weinstein has been accused of sexual misconduct by several dozen women since 2017, when reports in the New Yorker magazine and the New York Times helped ignite a national reckoning over sexual abuse committed by powerful men. The list of actresses and artists who have accused Weinstein of wrongdoing includes Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyong’o, Ashley Judd, Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The upcoming Los Angeles trial will feature testimony from well-known figures, said Mark Werksman, one of Weinstein’s defense attorneys.

“Some of these victims, people will recognize them. Some of these women, you’ve seen them in movies, they’ve been in ad campaigns, a couple of them have achieved some success as actresses or models,” Werksman said.

Accusers who testify against Weinstein will be referred to in court and in court records either as Jane Does or by their first names and last initials, according to a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office. The women will testify in open court and their faces will not be obscured, the spokesperson said.

One of the women who will take the stand to accuse Weinstein of assaulting her is Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s wife, The Times has learned.

When reached for comment, Siebel Newsom’s attorney, Elizabeth Fegan, acknowledged she would testify.

“Like many other women, my client was sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein at a purported business meeting that turned out to be a trap. She intends to testify at his trial in order to seek some measure of justice for survivors, and as part of her life’s work to improve the lives of women,” Fegan said. “Please respect her choice not to further discuss this matter outside of the courtroom.”

The Times typically does not name alleged victims of sexual assault unless they identify themselves publicly.

Siebel Newsom accused Weinstein of abuse in a 2017 Huffington Post essay.

“Based on my years in the industry and unfortunately, my own personal experience with Harvey Weinstein, I can tell you that I believe every single word that was written,” she said in the essay, which was published shortly after the New York Times first reported on rape allegations against Weinstein.

Siebel Newsom, who worked as an actor in the mid-2000s, did not recount in the essay details of the alleged assault, but described a pattern of behavior that mirrored how other women described Weinstein’s advances.

I was naïve, new to the industry, and didn’t know how to deal with his aggressive advances ― work invitations with a friend late-night at The Toronto Film Festival, and later an invitation to meet with him about a role in The Peninsula Hotel, where staff were present and then all of a sudden disappeared like clockwork, leaving me alone with this extremely powerful and intimidating Hollywood legend,” she wrote.

Siebel Newsom, 48, has made two documentary films that focus on gender in society. Her first foray into film came as an aspiring actress after graduating from business school.

In court documents, Siebel Newsom is referred to as “Jane Doe 4,” according to three people with knowledge of the case who requested anonymity to discuss the confidential issue. Jane Doe 4 accused Weinstein of forced rape that occurred sometime between September 2004 and September 2005, according to a criminal indictment against Weinstein that was issued last year.

“Sexual violence causes extraordinary trauma. Reporting your abuser and enduring the criminal legal process can exacerbate that trauma. We stand with all victims of sexual violence in maintaining their right to anonymity,” said Tiffiny Blacknell, chief spokeswoman for Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón.

Werksman said a court order prohibited them from discussing any accusers’ identities.

In total, nine women are expected to testify about assaults they allegedly endured during the trial, which is expected to stretch into December.

Along with the five women whose allegations made up the criminal charges, four so-called prior bad acts witnesses are slated to take the stand. Those witnesses will discuss alleged attacks by Weinstein that either happened in other jurisdictions or for other reasons could not be used as the basis for criminal charges, according to a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office.

Two of the women who are expected to testify have spoken out publicly or testified against Weinstein before.

Jane Doe 1 is an Italian model who previously spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity and accused Weinstein of barging into her Beverly Hills hotel room after a 2013 film festival, according to her civil attorney, David Ring.

The woman said she had previously declined an invitation to Weinstein’s hotel room when they met in Rome. But after the Los Angeles Italia Film, Fashion and Art Fest in February 2013, Weinstein allegedly showed up to her room “without warning” and demanded to be let in.

Weinstein repeatedly demanded she strip and bragged about his influence in the film industry, she alleged. The woman begged him to leave and showed him pictures of her children, but Weinstein did not relent, she said.

“He grabbed me by the hair and forced me to do something I didn’t want to do,” she told The Times in 2017. “He then dragged me to the bathroom and forcibly raped me.”

Another accuser in the Los Angeles case, Lauren Young, testified under her name as a “prior bad acts” witness during Weinstein’s trial in New York. Young’s testimony in that case matches the description of the assault alleged by Jane Doe 2 in court papers. Her civil attorney, Gloria Allred, also confirmed her involvement in the LA trial. Outside of her testimony, Young has not commented publicly.

Young told jurors in New York that she first met Weinstein in the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills in 2013. A mutual female acquaintance set up the meeting so Weinstein could learn about Young’s unfinished script, but the discussion lasted only minutes before Weinstein invited them up to feel hotel room.

Once upstairs, Young said she unwittingly followed Weinstein into a bathroom and the other woman closed the door behind her. Young alleged Weinstein started undressing and backed her up against a sink.

Young said she repeatedly told the mogul to stop, but Weinstein forcefully grabbed and pinched her breast with one hand while masturbating with the other, Young alleged.

In all, prosecutors plan to call approximately 50 witnesses over a three- to four-week span, according to a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office. Opening statements in the trial are expected in late October, after a two-week jury selection process, Werksman said.

Werksman would not say how many witnesses he planned to call or whether Weinstein would testify in his own defense. Weinstein did not take the stand in New York, but spoke up at his sentencing hearing, complaining that people who would have testified on his behalf had been scared into silence because of media scrutiny.

Weinstein’s prior conviction in New York and the reality that many potential jurors will have formed an opinion about Weinstein and the #MeToo movement puts the defense at a disadvantage, Werksman said. “She Said,” a film chronicling the efforts of journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey to report on Weinstein’s alleged abuses, will also debut as the trial is underway.

“Unlike most cases, we don’t get to start with a clean slate,” Werksman said. “There’s also the PR nightmare of a high-profile client like Harvey Weinstein having already been through a trial of the century 2 ½ years ago where he was convicted. There are a lot of people who may not be fluent in, or familiar with, the details, but they’re carrying around this general impression.”

Allred, who represents Young and another one of the alleged victims expected to testify in the LA case, said her clients will face similar scrutiny of their histories.

Pointing to a moment in the New York trial when one accuser effectively fled the stand under questioning from Weinstein’s defense team, Allred said the women testifying in the coming weeks will have to prepare themselves to face attorneys intent on picking apart the worst moment of their lives .

“I’ll put it in plain English: They will be attacked by the defense and they’re going to need to be able to withstand that attack,” he said. “There will be every attempt to discredit them, to attack their motives to suggest that they are inconsistent in what they stated in police reports and in discussions with prosecutors.”

Allred also expressed concern about the expected media blitz around the case, especially for witnesses like Young who are otherwise not public figures outside of the Weinstein case. But in some ways, Los Angeles’ courthouses will limit the number of eyes and cameras trained on the accusers.

Unlike in New York — where a galley of cameras, microphones and journalists lined the lone path from the court where Weinstein was tried to an elevator lobby — the use of recording devices is illegal in LA County courthouses without a judge’s permission.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lisa Lench has barred cameras from the courtroom. And although up to 75 reporters were permitted in court for each day of Weinstein’s Manhattan trial, Lench is allowing only a dozen journalists to attend daily proceedings in LA

No matter what happens in Los Angeles, Weinstein will have to serve out his New York sentence, unless he wins an appeal next year. An earlier attempt to have his conviction overturned failed.

Either way, Allred said many of the women who will testify in Los Angeles have waited years to have their stories told and deserve the chance to confront Weinstein in the city he once allegedly used as his hunting grounds.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, but it doesn’t have to be completely denied. … These are human beings, these are not just numbers,” she said. “For people to say, ‘Well, there was justice in New York and that’s enough justice,’ well, it’s not enough.”

Times staff writers Richard Winton in Los Angeles and Phil Willon and Taryn Luna in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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