Next week, more than two years after his alleged predations ignited a cultural flash point, the disgraced former movie producer will stand trial for rape in a Manhattan courtroom. In the months since his initial arrest, Weinstein’s case has seen multiple delays, shifting charges, and a tabloid-ready turnover of defense attorneys. The team that will take him to trial explains their case.
Donna Rotunno was getting into her Audi after work at Chicago’s landmark Marquette Building one night last May when her secretary sent a text. A man in New York wanted to talk to her about “a personal matter and something big.” He was a lawyer and, he said, a personal friend of Harvey Weinstein’s: The disgraced movie mogul needed “a trial lawyer and quarterback,” Rotonno later recalled, for the upcoming rape trial that could put the producer in jail for the rest of his life for the alleged sexual assaults of two women.
“I wasn’t surprised to get the phone call,” Rotunno told me in a conversation last fall. “I do these kinds of cases.” She was talking about defending men accused of sexual assault and rape. Rotunno has made such work enough of a specialty that, in the wake of #MeToo, Chicago magazine put her on its cover as “the anti-Gloria Allred.” Rotunno, who is 44, has embraced the role. In conversation she presents as Fox News–brand tough with the requisite disdain for “political correctness.“ Her clients have included such locally notorious figures as an imam who pleaded guilty to molesting a student and a female employee, and a fashion designer found not guilty of rape. But by Weinstein standards, she was an unknown. Her name rarely appeared in the news outside Chicago. Her law firm didn’t have a website. She sometimes used a Yahoo email address to conduct business.
By the time Rotunno got the call, Weinstein had been awaiting trial for a year. After stories in the New York Times and New Yorker in 2017 led to an onslaught of accusers, authorities in several jurisdictions opened investigations into Weinstein. Eventually, authorities in New York charged him with five counts of felony sex-crimes following his arrest in May 2018. On Monday, eight months after that call to Rotunno—and 20 months after his arrest—Weinstein’s trial is scheduled to begin. The proceedings in a downtown Manhattan courtroom will mark the first major criminal trial of a powerful man taken down by #MeToo, and become a focal point for worldwide scrutiny for an anticipated four to six weeks. News outlets from Russia to Argentina plan to send correspondents.
While more than 80 women have publicly accused Weinstein of sexual harassment and abuse, he will stand trial for two alleged incidents. Mimi Haleyi, a former production assistant has accused Weinstein of forcibly raping her in his SoHo home in 2006, and a woman who has remained anonymous says Weinstein raped her at a DoubleTree Hotel in Manhattan in 2013. Weinstein faces felony charges on two counts of predatory sexual assault, two counts of rape, and one count of a criminal sexual act. He could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty.