Harvey Weinstein asks top NY appeals court to overturn rape conviction, grant new trial in another

NEW YORK — Attorneys for Harvey Weinstein asked New York’s highest state court on Wednesday to overturn one of the disgraced film producer’s rape convictions, and give him a new trial in another.

“Our client did not get a fair trial,” defense lawyer Arthur Aidala told the Court of Appeals at a hearing in Albany.

The fallen Hollywood titan was convicted in February 2020 of committing a first-degree criminal sexual act upon one woman and third-degree rape of another. He was acquitted on three other counts — one count of first-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault.

The jury found him guilty of a criminal sexual act upon former “Project Runway” assistant Miriam Haley inside his SoHo loft in 2006. Weinstein wants a new trial in the Haley case. Weinstein wants his conviction for third degree rape of aspiring actress Jessica Mann in a hotel in March 2013 dismissed because he claims the crime occurred outside the statute of limitations.

Miramax founder Weinstein was sentenced in March 2020 to 23 years in prison in the New York case. He later received another 16-year sentence on charges in California. Weinstein is currently held at a men’s prison in upstate Rome. Given his age, the two sentences could leave him behind bars the rest of his life.

Aidala focused much of his argument Wednesday on three witnesses — Tarale Wulff, Lauren Young and Dawn Dunning. Aidala argued that the women’s testimony about encounters with Weinstein that did not result in criminal charges was unnecessary to prove Weinstein’s criminal intent in the assaults for which he was convicted.

In legal terms, those witnesses spoke about prior “bad acts” about Weinstein.

Aidala said that instead of proving anything, the women’s “bad acts” testimony simply told the jury: “Look how bad he is. Look what he’s done in the past.”

Appeals Court Judge Madeline Singas challenged Aidala’s theory

“In some sexual violence, intent is not so clear,” Singas said. She described Weinstein’s approach to the women’s claims as: “Look, this is very transactional — I give them movie roles, I invite them to my hotel room, we have consensual sex.”

“The jury has a right to know that when these women are put into that position, that he has done this time and time again, and he knows this isn’t a consensual situation because he knows these other women haven’t consented to that, and have run out,” Singas said.

“And amongst all the power plays of his power in Hollywood — his power over their careers — there has to be a different assessment because sexual violence is different in these kinds of cases than in a stranger rape.”

Aidala countered that Weinstein was unfairly being held to a different standard as the “poster boy” for the #MeToo movement.

“The (bad acts testimony) that came in was not helpful,” he later argued. “It doesn’t help a jury understand what happened (to Haley) in that bedroom in 2006 by hearing what happened in a shower with Lauren Young in 2013. They’re not even closely related.”

Steven Wu, representing the Manhattan DA, said the bad acts testimony was crucial in showing Weinstein’s knowledge and intent, and jurors were free to disregard it.

Wu said the testimony showed “that somebody in his position, sort of receiving favors from these ambitious women who are willing to be personal and friendly and some are flirtatious with him, is not the same as consent.”

Soon after his New York conviction, Weinstein was moved to California for trial on additional sex crime charges, leading to his second conviction in December 2022 for forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, and sexual penetration by a foreign object stemming from a 2013 incident with an Italian model. Jurors were unable to decide on additional rape and sexual assault charges.

The movie mogul’s precipitous and unrivaled fall from grace came in late 2017 following bombshell exposés in The New Yorker and The New York Times alleging he’d raped, sexually abused, and mentally tormented scores of young women throughout his career, sparking the global #MeToo movement against workplace sexual harassment.

The Court of Appeals panel did not indicate when it would issue a decision.

Weinstein, 71, a Queens native, appealed his New York conviction in April 2021. Besides challenging the bad acts testimony and the statute of limitations, Weinstein complained about a juror who wrote a book about predatory older men.

A mid-level appeals court panel appeared receptive to some of those arguments, questioning whether former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s case was “overkill.” But in June 2022, that Appellate Division panel upheld his conviction.

“Please, reinstill our faith in the system. Thank you so much, your honors, I appreciate your time,” Aidala said as he concluded his argument. “And happy Valentine’s Day!”