Harvey Weinstein dumped his attorney without a clear plan to replace him. Now he is scrambling to cast an ensemble of “dream team” lawyers including those who’ve represented El Chapo and Aaron Hernandez.
The disgraced movie mogul officially announced Thursday that Ben Brafman is quitting as counsel, after The Daily Beast reported the two have clashed over legal strategy on how to fight charges in Manhattan that he sexually assaulted one woman and raped another. Weinstein is said to have wanted to fight the case in public, which clashed with Brafman’s strategy of fighting it only in court. (Under Brafman one of the six counts against Weinstein was dropped.)
“Both parties have agreed to part ways amicably and Mr. Brafman has agreed to cooperate fully with new counsel for Mr. Weinstein so as to ensure an orderly transition,” Weinstein’s team said in a statement. “Mr. Weinstein intends to introduce his new legal team by early next week. There will be no additional comments pertaining to this.”
Weinstein has interviewed “multiple” attorneys and is seeking a “blend of people” in an effort to form a O.J. Simpson style-defense in which “everyone has a different role,” said one source with knowledge of Weinstein’s thinking about his defense. Legal experts questioned Weinstein’s judgment in dumping one attorney without a replacement locked in.
The source said Weinstein has contacted Ronald Sullivan, a Harvard law professor who worked on a team of lawyers to defend former New England Patriots football star Aaron Hernandez in his double homicide trial; Julie Rendelman, a former New York state prosecutor; and Isabelle Kirshner, who is representing former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is roiled in his own sexual harassment allegations (prosecutors didn’t pursue charges though). Kirshner and Rendelman have met with Weinstein in person, the source added.
Weinstein is also “curious about" Jeffrey Lichtman, who is currently defending Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in federal court, but hasn't talked to him, according to the source.
A spokesman for Weinstein, Juda Engelmayer, said “he wants a defense that can help him get acquitted.”
It’s unclear if Weinstein will appear in court with his new counsel—or any counsel at all.
The Manhattan case represents the only criminal charges filed against Weinstein, but to date more than 80 women have accused him of a range of sexual misconduct, from lewd comments to rape, resulting in several lawsuits around the country. Weinstein has denied all accusations of non-consensual sex.
Brafman, a New York City super lawyer who many in the legal community believe was an ideal fit for Weinstein, has represented high-profile clients including hip hop mogul Sean “Diddy“ Combs, former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli.
Top criminal lawyers questioned the “dream team” strategy, especially several months into a high-profile case.
“Weinstein already had the best criminal defense lawyer in New York. It’s not clear why he needs a so-called ‘dream team,’” said Daniel R. Alonso, the former Chief District Attorney under Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance. Alonso is now managing director and general counsel of Exiger.
“Whether a lawyer appears a lot on TV, or talks about him or herself a lot, has little to do with whether they’re great in the courtroom,” Alonso added. “Weinstein would do well to go with the latter rather than the former.”
John Meringolo, a criminal defense attorney who teaches at Pace Law School said, “It’s definitely not smart to do that as you need to develop rhythm during trial, potentially pitting witnesses against each other.”
“If attorneys are doing different witnesses and different aspects, the lead attorney may not know what's going on,” he said. “It’d be like having two separate quarterbacks in a football match.”
New York criminal attorney Tom Harvey said that if Weinstein’s “not guilty, why do you need multiple attorneys?”
“Do you think a jury is going to think it’s great you have four to five attorneys?” Harvey said. “I think he’s got a very winnable case and I think Brafman was the perfect attorney for him. He’s a very solid good attorney.
“In complicated cases it might make sense to have multiple attorneys,” he added, “but in a more straightforward case such as Weinstein’s it doesn’t make much sense.”