Harvey Weinstein attends court ahead of trial

By Tom Hays and Michael R Sisak, Associated Press

Harvey Weinstein has attended a court hearing in the US where his lawyers and a judge handled the final preparations for his trial on charges of rape and sexual assault.

Weinstein, 67, entered the building in New York leaning on a walking aid following recent back surgery, sporting a dark suit and dishevelled hair.

When asked outside the courtroom how his back felt, Weinstein responded with a thin smile and a so-so gesture with his hand.

Across the street, actresses and other women who allege they were sexually harassed or assaulted by Weinstein said he was undeserving of anyone’s pity.

“He looked cowardly. He wouldn’t look at us. He wouldn’t make eye contact,” said Sarah Ann Masse, a performer and writer who alleged Weinstein once sexually harassed her during a job interview.

“This trial is a cultural reckoning regardless of its legal outcome,” she said.

Inside, his lawyers and prosecutors sparred about procedural matters during a brief hearing before Weinstein departed in an SUV.

Jury selection in the trial will start on Tuesday, more than two years since the allegations first came to widespread public attention and catalysed the #MeToo movement.

Weinstein’s lead lawyer, Donna Rotunno, said she was hopeful a fair jury could be found that would not pre-judge the case.

Harvey Weinstein arrives at court in New York (Julie Jacobson/AP)

“In this great country, you are innocent until proven guilty,” she told reporters outside court.

Weinstein faces allegations that he raped one woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and performed a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006.

The film mogul has pleaded not guilty and says any sexual activity was consensual.

If he is convicted of the most serious charges against him, two counts of predatory sexual assault, Weinstein faces a mandatory life sentence.

For that to happen, prosecutors must demonstrate Weinstein had a habit of violating women, beyond the two directly involved in the alleged encounters in which he is charged.

To that end, they plan to call actress Annabella Sciorra, who alleges Weinstein forced himself inside her Manhattan apartment in 1993 or 1994 and raped her after she starred in a film for his movie studio.

They also want jurors to hear from some of the more than 75 women who have come forward publicly to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to assault.

The first allegations were brought to light by The New York Times and The New Yorker in October 2017.

The judge has not said how many other accusers will be allowed to give evidence.

Speaking outside court as proceedings began, a group of Weinstein’s accusers spoke with reporters, including Masse, actresses Rosanna Arquette, Dominique Huett and Rose McGowan, model Paula Williams, Louise Godbold and actress and journalist Lauren Sivan.

Rose McGowan speaks at a news conference outside a Manhattan court after the arrival of Harvey Weinstein (Mark Lennihan/AP)

McGowan thanked the women who will give evidence during the trial as alleged victims for representing many more women who may never get their day in court.

“They are standing for us, and I am immensely proud of them,” she said.

“We didn’t have our day. But hopefully they will. Their victory will be our victory. Their loss will be our loss.”

Ms Rotunno has argued the case is weak and said she plans to aggressively cross-examine the accusers.

Picking a jury for Weinstein’s trial could take a while, in part because immense media attention on the case could mean some potential jurors already have their minds made up.

Weinstein’s lawyers tried to get the trial moved out of Manhattan but a court rejected that.