With his trial less than four months away, Harvey Weinstein has ditched the lawyer he’s had since his arrest last May and replaced him with a phalanx of celebrity attorneys. The former clients of his new legal team include accused rapist Kobe Bryant; Casey Anthony, who was acquitted of killing her toddler-age daughter in 2011; and Rose McGowan — who is one of Weinstein’s most outspoken accusers.
The head of Weinstein’s new defense team is Jose Baez who, along with Ronald Sullivan (who is also on the Weinstein team), represented McGowan during her drug case in Loudon County, Virginia, after McGowan was arrested for cocaine possession in 2017.
At the time, McGowan said she suspected Weinstein had the drugs planted on her in an ongoing effort to discredit and silence her. Authorities at Washington Dulles International Airport found the cocaine in a wallet McGowan had unintentionally left behind at the airport in January 2017; but an arrest warrant wasn’t issued until ten months later, after McGowan went public with her sexual assault allegation against Weinstein. As Rolling Stone reports, court documents filed in February 2018 by Jessica Carmichael (McGowan’s attorney before Baez was hired) “argued that Weinstein could have had drugs planted in McGowan’s wallet during the five hours before it was found by the airport’s cleaning crew.”
Baez and Sullivan insist there’s no conflict because they haven’t represented McGowan in any of her legal efforts against Weinstein. McGowan received a $100,000 settlement from Weinstein in 1997, after she says he raped her.
In a statement to the Daily Beast, Baez and Sullivan said, “We were pleased to represent our former client, Ms. Rose McGowan, in a matter unrelated to Mr. Weinstein’s current charges. After consultation with ethics counsel, we are certain no conflict of interest exists. We wish Ms. McGowan well with all her future endeavors.”
McGowan disagrees. “This is a major conflict of interest but I knew there was shadiness going on behind the scenes,” she told The Daily Beast. She went on: “This is why my case didn’t go to trial—my instinct was my lawyers had been bought off. I thought Harvey would get to them behind the scenes and I wouldn’t have fair representation.”
To the New York Times, McGowan was even more impassioned, calling the conflict “egregious.”
“Baez did nothing for my case and now I know why,” she said in an email. “A truly terrible human and a disgrace of a lawyer.”
McGowan says she even asked Baez “directly if he would ever work with Harvey and I told him it was my fear that he would be bought off while representing me.” According to McGowan, Baez replied, “I don’t like to lose.”
Exiled from Weinstein’s side is Ben Brafman, whose banner appearances on Weinstein’s behalf include his remarks to the press on the day of Weinstein’s arrest last May — “Mr. Weinstein did not invent the casting couch in Hollywood” — comments that did not, in fact, prevent a judge from allowing Weinstein to be sued for sex trafficking for his so-called casting couch abuses.
Nevertheless, Brafman did successfully get one of the six counts — a criminal sexual act in the first degree — in Weinstein’s criminal case dropped. Weinstein still faces the other five, which include two counts of rape. He has denied all allegations of non-consensual sexual contact.
Other highlights from Baez and Sullivan’s history include the 2017 acquittal for former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez, who was accused of double homicide. Baez famously won the acquittal of Casey Anthony. A third member of Weinstein’s new team, Pam Mackey, represented Kobe Bryant after he was accused of raping a 19-year-old hotel employee in 2003. (The case was dropped; Bryant maintains the encounter was consensual, though he has said since that he “understand[s] how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter” — though he has not yet released his accuser from the non-disclosure agreement to which he bound her.) Former Manhattan prosecutor Duncan Levin is also on the team — as is Brafman, technically, until Justice James Burke green-lights the swap to Weinstein’s legal team at a hearing on Friday.
Weinstein’s trial is slated to begin on May 7.