The Embattled Los Angeles D.A. Prosecuting Harvey Weinstein
D.A. Jackie Lacey, who’s overseeing Weinstein’s L.A. rape case, is in a tight re-election race, her husband pulled a gun on protesters, and her office has its own #MeToo problems.
Wednesday morning, one month after Harvey Weinstein was convicted of raping former actress Jessica Mann and former Project Runway production assistant Miriam Haleyi, a New York judge sentenced him to 23 years in prison. Pending an appeal, the announcement brought an end to Weinstein’s intensely watched New York criminal proceedings. But it also marked the beginning of similar charges against the disgraced Miramax executive in Los Angeles.
On Jan. 6, after more than two years of investigation, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced four felony charges against Weinstein, including forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force, and sexual battery by restraint. The complaint alleged that Weinstein had raped one woman and sexually assault another in a two-day period in 2013. Weinstein has denied all allegations and will likely plead not guilty at his arraignment.
When D.A. Lacey announced the charges in a press conference in January, she drew criticism from attorneys and media outlets over the peculiarity of its timing: the same day as jury selection in the New York trial. Given Weinstein’s high profile, the new charges and the press attention they inevitably provoked ran the risk of tainting the jury pool, said Mark Bederow, a Manhattan criminal defense attorney, who wrote about the press conference for The Daily Beast in January.
“The timing of the L.A. press conference was outrageous for the simple reason that they could have done it any time. They could have done it earlier or later,” Bederow said. “If you’re a prosecutor and you know that [Weinstein] is facing jury selection in New York and you choose that day of all days to choose to have a pomp and circumstance press conference, by doing it in that fashion at that time, it was designed to create all sorts of negative coverage for him...It’s an unprofessional stunt by a prosecutor to do that.”
Both women, identified only as Jane Does 1 and 2 in the Los Angeles charging documents, allege that the movie mogul attacked them in hotel suites following work-related events. The first Doe, a 40-year-old Italian model and actress, claimed Weinstein had raped her at the Mr. C Beverly Hills hotel in February of 2013. Doe 1 allegedly met the producer during the Los Angeles-Italia Film, Fashion, and Art Fest. They briefly spoke and Weinstein invited her up to his hotel room. Doe 1 declined. But later that night, Weinstein appeared in the lobby of her hotel “without warning,” and asked to come up to her suite. She declined again. But around midnight, he allegedly “bullied” his way upstairs and began knocking on her door. (Notably, the Mr. C is owned by Weinstein’s good friend, restaurant magnate Giuseppe Cipriani, who has been accused of allowing his properties to become the mogul’s “hunting ground”).
“Once inside, he asked me questions about myself, but soon became very aggressive and demanding and kept asking to see me naked,” Doe 1 told the Los Angeles Times in an exclusive interview from 2017. She allegedly showed Weinstein pictures of her children and mother, who was undergoing chemotherapy at the time, crying and begging him to leave. He then reportedly grabbed her by the hair, forced her to perform oral sex on him, dragged her to the bathroom and forcibly raped her. Following the incident, Jane Doe 1 told at least three friends, including a priest and a nanny, about the incident. Weinstein allegedly invited the former Vogue Italia cover model to parties at his residence. She did not attend. Both Jane Doe 1 and her attorney, Dave Ring, declined to comment for this article.
The second victim, represented by attorney Gloria Allred, alleged that she met Weinstein the next night in the lobby of another hotel in Beverly Hills. Weinstein had come for a business meeting in one of the hotel restaurants, where Jane Doe 2 met him with a female acquaintance. The three allegedly chatted in the lobby and then went to Weinstein’s hotel room. While in the suite, prosecutor Paul Thompson claimed, Jane Doe 2 walked “unwittingly” into the bathroom with Weinstein. The second acquaintance shut the door behind them. In the bathroom, Thompson alleged, Weinstein disrobed, blocked Doe 2 from leaving, removed her dress, and held her down by the breast, as he masturbated. “Once he ejaculated on the floor,” the bail request documents allege, “he allowed Jane Doe 2 to leave.”
Jane Doe 2 testified in the New York trial as one of four Molineux witnesses—individuals not named in the charges who nonetheless allege similar crimes to demonstrate a pattern of abuse—taking the stand in the white lace dress she wore the night Weinstein allegedly assaulted her.
Weinstein has not yet been arraigned for the Los Angeles case, and it is not immediately clear when he will be. Following his New York sentencing, the disgraced producer will be extradited to Los Angeles to enter his plea, where a judge will determine his bail. Should the judge follow the standard bail schedule, his bail will be set at $325,000. But prosecutors have requested $5,000,000, alleging that Weinstein’s vast resources mandate a higher sum. “I have reason to believe there will be a very speedy attempt to extradite him,” attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Jane Doe 2, said Wednesday after the sentencing in New York.
The extradition process may be complicated if Weinstein appeals the decision, which Bederow believes he will do immediately. “I suspect the first thing he’ll do is seek bail pending appeal. His lawyers will go to bail authorities and say he’s likely to win on appeal and it’s unjust to have him sit in jail,” Bederow said. “Do I think that’s likely to happen? No. But if it does, it makes the question of bail in California all the more important...I think realistically even if he were to get bail in New York, a judge in California would likely remand him.”
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office has declined to comment on the case. But in the bail documents, Thompson listed seven alleged victims who were involved in their investigation and had agreed to testify in court, despite either being out of the Los Angeles jurisdiction, falling outside of the statute of limitations, or having declined to press charges against Weinstein themselves. Among the accusations: a 1997 rape in Los Angeles, a 1978 rape in a New York City hotel room, a 1980 rape in an Italian hotel, a 1991 attempted sexual battery in Los Angeles, a 2004 incident of forcible oral copulation in Los Angeles, a 2008 sexual battery in a Los Angeles hotel, and a 2008 forcible rape in a London hotel.
Another Weinstein accuser, Italian model Ambra Gutierrez, who has claimed Weinstein sexually assaulted her in 2015, told The Daily Beast that she will testify in the Los Angeles trial. “They want me to testify to help others—to help show a pattern. They haven’t told me much,” Gutierrez said. After her assault in 2015, the model filed a police report and worked with New York authorities to conduct a sting operation and record Weinstein admitting the assault. Despite the audio evidence, District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. decided not to press charges—a fact Los Angeles prosecutors will have to contend with should Gutierrez take the stand.
“For me, the important thing was being believed and the years that I lost weren’t wasted and validating other women made me feel great,” said Gutierrez, who attended the sentencing Wednesday morning. “I feel he deserves more than the maximum 25 years for hurting all the other women.”
THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY
Another complicating factor in the Los Angeles proceedings is that their announcement coincided with the district attorney’s re-election campaign—a tight race between Lacey and two competitors, former San Francisco prosecutor Geoge Gascón and public defender Rachel Rossi, which came to a head on Super Tuesday. Results have still not been finalized, but as of Wednesday, Lacey had received slightly less than 50 percent of the vote, meaning she may be forced into a runoff in November. “I understand that the D.A. is in a very, very difficult race,” Bederow said. “I have no opinion about that, but it doesn’t look good for her. Politics was an absolute factor in the [the timing of Weinstein’s charges].”
Lacey, who “has been far less visible” than most D.A.s, according to Raphael Sonenshein, Executive Director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, found a spotlight in recent months, in part due to a perceived hesitance to prosecute police officers involved in civilian shootings and wealthy, white residents such as Weinstein and Democratic donor Ed Buck. Buck currently faces county and federal charges over the deaths of two black men who overdosed from methamphetamine in his West Hollywood apartment between 2017 and 2018. Lacey’s department declined to prosecute him until September of 2019, just one month before a federal grand jury announced their indictment. At a district attorney debate in late January, Gascón claimed he had spoken with Buck and Weinstein’s accusers, lambasting Lacey over how she handled their cases. “You know what they all have in common?” Gascón asked. “This office has not only ignored them—it’s treated them with no respect.”
On March 2, just one day before the election, Lacey made national news when her husband, David Lacey, pointed a gun at a group of unarmed Black Lives Matter protestors who had gathered outside her home. When BLM leader Melina Abdullah, who attended the protest, published video footage of the confrontation on Twitter. The tape shows David leaning out of his wooden front door, pointing a large handgun at the 30-something activists off screen, who had come to protest the D.A.’s refusal to speak with the relatives of officer-involved shooting victims. “Get off my porch,” he says. Abdullah responds calmly: “What are you going to do? Shoot me?” Lacey affirms: “I will shoot you. Get off my porch.” The video was viewed more than 764,000 times.
Last month, Lacey again made the news when criminal justice website Witness L.A. reported on allegations of retaliation within her department after one prosecutor reported sexual assault. In September, an L.A. County deputy district attorney named Karen Nishita received a $300,000 settlement from the County of Los Angeles over her testimony that her supervisor, prosecutor Edward Miller, had sexually harassed her for some 2½ years. Nishita, who had been scared to report the misconduct, had confided in a colleague, Deputy DA Tracey Stevens. It was Stevens who brought the harassment to the office’s attention. But when Miller was demoted following the settlement, so was Stevens.
In February, Stevens filed a civil lawsuit alleging that, following her report, she was demoted from her specialized unit to a menial position at the farflung Airport Courthouse, assigned an unusually heavy caseload, and intimidated by co-workers, including Miller. The complaint echoed reporting from the L.A. Daily News, which cited several prosecutors within the department alleging that whistleblowers are consistently denied promotions, banished to “freeway therapy” (meaning distant offices), removed from major cases, and sentenced to trivial duties.
Lacey has denied any accusations of relation. “When someone has reported that they are being sexually harassed, we take it seriously,” Lacey told Witness L.A. “We simply don’t demote, we don’t do anything to the person that reported it.”
If the district attorney race is pushed into a run-off, Sonenshein said, Weinstein’s criminal proceedings will become one of the central focuses of the campaign. That could play well or poorly for her, he argued, citing prior famous trials of O.J. Simpson and the officers involved in the violent beating of Rodney King, all of whom were acquitted just before the overseeing D.A.s were voted out of office. “D.A. politics is very, very cutthroat,” Sonenshein said. “You’re challenged for re-election from people in your own office. Things can go wrong. Controversies can go wrong. It’s like riding a mechanical bull.”