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Harvey Weinstein's lawyer wants to quit the case over differences in strategy, sources say

Harvey Weinstein's lawyer wants to quit the case over differences in strategy, sources say
Harvey Weinstein enters state Supreme Court in New York in October 2018. (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Harvey Weinstein’s attorney Benjamin Brafman is expected to ask a New York judge for permission to be relieved as legal counsel for the Hollywood mogul in his rape and sexual assault trial, according to sources familiar with the case.

The move could delay Weinstein's trial, which is slated for May. It would likely take a new attorney considerable time to get up to speed on a highly complex case with potentially dozens of witnesses.

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Since December, Weinstein has agitated for a more aggressive approach that seeks to undermine not only the two women accusing him of rape but also the dozens of women accusing him of sexually inappropriate conduct over four decades in Hollywood.

After months of letting his lawyer set the tone, Weinstein has begun talking to other people, including media movers and shakers, the sources say.

For Brafman to exit the high-profile proceedings, he will need Justice James Burke’s approval.

Two sources familiar with the inner workings of the proceedings of the case, involving allegations that Weinstein raped two women, said the attorney intended to file the paperwork soon.

Last month, the judge rejected a motion by Brafman to dismiss charges of sexual assault against Weinstein.

For months, Weinstein’s legal team had attacked the reliability of his accusers and questioned the conduct of the New York Police Department and prosecutors. Despite hundreds of pages of dismissal motions, Burke quickly dismissed the motion.

Weinstein has been under intense scrutiny since October 2017, when dozens of women came forward to accuse him of a wide array of misconduct. He was arrested by the NYPD in May and charged with six counts of sexual assault in Manhattan. Prosecutors said he forced former actress Lucia Evans to perform oral sex on him in 2004; attacked another woman, Mimi Haleyi, in 2006; and sexually assaulted an unidentified woman in a hotel in 2013.

The Times typically does not name women who make accusations of sexual assault, but Haleyi and Evans have publicly told their stories.

Prosecutors dropped the charge related to Evans’ accusation in October after questions about inconsistencies in her testimony. Brafman argued that Evans’ “perjured” testimony poisoned a grand jury against the producer and called for all charges to be dismissed.

In court filings, Brafman also has pointed to email communications that took place between the remaining accusers and Weinstein after the dates of the alleged assaults. In one case, Brafman claims, an accuser attended a movie screening with Weinstein mere hours after she said he assaulted her in 2013.

Brafman has also alleged misconduct by police during the Weinstein investigation and accused prosecutors of presenting an incomplete case to the grand jury.

In a six-page decision, Burke rejected each of Brafman’s arguments. There was “no basis” for Brafman’s accusations of law enforcement malfeasance, according to the ruling, and Burke found that “the charges presented in the Grand Jury were supported by competent evidence and the proceedings were properly conducted.”

He also ruled the dismissal of the charge stemming from Evans’ accusation had no bearing on the other charges.

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The discovery of the email communications between Weinstein and his accusers that took place after the alleged assaults were not grounds for dismissing the indictment either, Burke ruled. The judge deemed “witness credibility” as an issue to be determined at trial.

In addition to the charges he faces in Manhattan, Weinstein also remains the target of several civil lawsuits and faces potential prosecution in Southern California. Police in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills have built assault cases against Weinstein, and those cases have been presented to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office for consideration of possible charges.

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