Harvey Weinstein’s legal “dream team” for his much-anticipated sexual assault case suffered another blow Thursday when lawyer Jose Baez was granted permission to withdraw from the case.
As The Daily Beast first reported, Weinstein dumped star litigator Ben Brafman in favor of a so-called “dream team” of lawyers that included Baez and Harvard law professor Ronald Sullivan.
That move seems to have backfired with Sullivan dropping out of the case following backlash at Harvard regarding his role in the proceedings.
During the pretrial hearing Thursday, Judge James Burked asked Weinstein if he was OK with Baez leaving his legal team. “Yes,” replied Weinstein, who ignored questions from reporters as he made his way into court.
People familiar with the situation tell The Daily Beast that Baez, who’s previously represented high-profile clients like Casey Anthony, is exiting due to clashes over legal tactics with the former Hollywood mogul.
“He thinks he’s making a movie,” said a person familiar with the case. “He’s just trying to put together the perfect cast and it’s not working. It’s not a movie. He is impossible to work with,” the person said.
The person familiar with the matter said Weinstein was keen to try the case in the court of public opinion—a strategy Brafman had earlier rejected.
“Ben wants to do everything in the courtroom and that’s the opposite of Weinstein, who wants the case tried in the court of public opinion and not a court of law,” a source previously told The Daily Beast.
The individual familiar with the matter echoed those concerns. “Weinstein’s strategy is still to try this case in the public domain,” the person said “It’s pointless. It’s counterintuitive.”
Baez only joined Weinstein’s legal team in January, and at the time, The Daily Beast reported his former client Rose McGowan criticized the lawyer for what she believed was a conflict.
“This is a major conflict of interest but I knew there was shadiness going on behind the scenes,” she told The Daily Beast. “This is why my case didn’t go to trial—my instinct was my lawyers had been bought off,” she added. Baez denied at the time there was any conflict of interest.
McGowan is one of dozens of women who have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct but is not involved in the Manhattan criminal case that goes to trial September 9.
Weinstein, 67, is charged with raping a woman in 2013 and performing a sex act on a different woman in 2006. He denies the allegations.
Baez told Judge Burke in a letter last month that his relationship with Weinstein had broken down.
“Mr. Weinstein has engaged in behavior that makes this representation unreasonably difficult to carry out effectively and has insisted upon taking actions with which I have fundamental disagreements,” Baez wrote.
Jeremy Saland, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said having a “constant revolving door” of lawyers isn’t good for Weinstein’s case.
“Every time you change counsel, you run the risk that something will be missed or misinterpreted,” he said. “That never comes out to the benefit of the accused.”
“The lack of continuity demonstrates that he may be a difficult client, he’s unwilling to heed the advice and strategy of his counsel, or there’s financial troubles,” Saland added. “It seems to me it’s one or a combination of those issues.”
Weinstein has added two new lawyers to his team, Donna Rotunno and Damon Cheronis, both from Chicago.
“He thinks he is producing a movie. It’s pathetic and comical all in one. All the other female attorneys turned him down,” said the person familiar with the inner workings of Weinstein’s defense.
“He thinks it makes him look less creepy to have a female lawyer represent him. I think he needs the best lawyer not window dressing.”
But the person with knowledge of the situation believes the Pulp Fiction producer may walk a free man.
“I give him a great chance of getting off,” the person said. “The charges are flimsy. It’s a weak, weak case. The only way he will lose this case is if the lawyers fall on their head and forget where the courthouse is.”
—Additional reporting by Pervaiz Shallwani