Judge approves changes to Weinstein’s legal team

Film producer Harvey Weinstein attends a hearing in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., January 25, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 January 2019
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Judge approves changes to Weinstein’s legal team

  • The disgraced Hollywood mogul is looking to replace defense attorney Benjamin Brafman with four lawyers
  • Weinstein denies all allegations of nonconsensual sex

NEW YORK: Harvey Weinstein won a judge’s approval Friday to overhaul the defense team in his rape and sexual assault case, replacing his bulldog New York City attorney with a four-person squad that’s high on courtroom stars and headline-grabbing cases.
The disgraced Hollywood mogul was in a Manhattan courtroom — along with new lawyers Jose Baez, Ronald Sullivan and Duncan Levin, and ex-lawyer Benjamin Brafman — as Judge James Burke signed off on the switch.
“Welcome to the New York State Supreme Court,” Burke told Weinstein’s new lawyers.
Weinstein, 66, and Brafman, 70, announced last week that they had “agreed to part ways amicably.” The move came a month after they lost a hard-fought bid to get the case thrown out.
Asked as he left court if he was happy with his new lawyers, Weinstein responded “absolutely.” Brafman told reporters that he wished Weinstein “the best of luck with his case.”
Weinstein’s trial is slated for May 6, with a pretrial hearing March 8. Baez said they planned to abide by that schedule.
Weinstein is charged with raping a woman in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006. He denies the allegations.
“He is innocent,” Baez said after Friday’s hearing. “This is what Harvey Weinstein has said to this court, that he is innocent of these charges, when he pled not guilty.”
Baez said Weinstein’s case “is testing the presumption of innocence in our country” as it unfolds in a post-#MeToo world where rushes to judgment and social media condemnation have become the norm.
“You have a man who needs to stand trial for these specific acts and he should be entitled to the same presumption as everyone else,” Baez said. Ignoring due process, he added, is “a threat to all of us.”
Weinstein’s other new lawyer, Pamela Robillard Mackey, didn’t attend Friday’s hearing because she was out of the country.
Baez is perhaps the best-known of the four, first gaining fame representing Casey Anthony, the Florida mom whose televised trial in 2011 ended in an acquittal on charges of killing her young daughter.
Baez and Sullivan, a 52-year-old Harvard law professor, teamed up to successfully defend New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez against murder charges in 2017. Hernandez, in prison for a 2015 murder conviction, killed himself five days later.
Mackey, based in Denver, represented Kobe Bryant when the former basketball star was accused of raping a 19-year-old at a Colorado resort in 2003. The charges were dismissed when prosecutors said the accuser was no longer interested in testifying.
Levin, a former prosecutor under Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., does white-collar criminal defense work in New York City.
Weinstein announced his new lawyers Wednesday.
One of his Hollywood accusers immediately blasted Baez and Sullivan for agreeing to represent Weinstein after defending her in a drug case last year.
Actress Rose McGowan, one of the first of dozens of women to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct, called it a “major conflict of interest.”
Baez and Sullivan denied that, saying McGowan’s case had nothing to do with Weinstein. She is not an accuser in his criminal case.
Burke warned Weinstein that Baez and Sullivan would not be able to cross-examine McGowan “as vigorously as they might have otherwise” if prosecutors were to call her as a witness because they couldn’t use information that they learned in representing her.
They also agreed not to share any of that material with Weinstein’s other lawyers.
McGowan, who pleaded no contest last week, has alleged that Weinstein had someone plant cocaine that Virginia authorities said they found in her wallet. In attempting to bolster the claim, the “Charmed” star has pointed to emails in which Weinstein and a lawyer discussed her arrest.
Brafman, in his last courtroom act as Weinstein’s lawyer, told the judge that Weinstein was commenting in the emails “on the absurdity of the allegation” that he had the drugs planted, “not the truthfulness of the matter.”
 


Belgium seeks Uighur family in Xinjiang after disappearance

Updated 51 min 44 sec ago
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Belgium seeks Uighur family in Xinjiang after disappearance

  • The disappearance of the woman and her four children has alarmed her husband, as an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang
  • Abdulhamid Tursun, a political refugee in Belgium, said he has not heard from his family since May 31, a few days after they left the embassy under murky circumstances

BEIJING: A Belgian diplomat was expected to travel to China’s restive Xinjiang region on Tuesday to confirm the whereabouts of a Uighur family that was escorted from Belgium’s embassy in Beijing by police last month.
The disappearance of the woman and her four children has alarmed her husband, as an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang.
Abdulhamid Tursun, a political refugee in Belgium, said he has not heard from his family since May 31, a few days after they left the embassy under murky circumstances.
“I am worried about their safety,” he told AFP. “I hope they can safely come be at my side as soon as possible, and our family can reunite.”
Belgium’s decision to dispatch a diplomat to Xinjiang comes as the embassy faces criticism for allegedly enabling Chinese police to take the family back to Xinjiang — where they could face detention.
“The case exposes the additional risk Uighurs in China face even if they want to seek help from foreign governments,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International.
“The Belgian embassy set an extremely bad example of how governments put economic interests above human rights,” he told AFP.
China’s foreign ministry and the Xinjiang government did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment.
The mother, Horiyat Abula, and her four children traveled to Beijing at the end of May to complete missing paperwork for their family reunification visas.
According to Tursun, his wife and children panicked upon learning it would take “at least three months” for their visas to be approved and refused to leave the embassy.
They were afraid to return to their hotel because police had visited them multiple times since they arrived in Beijing, he explained.
“The police came in the middle of the night, asking why they came to Beijing, when they would return,” he said. “They were very scared, they didn’t sleep all night.”
The embassy offered to accompany Abula and her four children back to their hotel, but they “refused to leave the embassy in a kind of sit-in,” a Belgian ministry spokesman told AFP.
In an interview published Tuesday, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told Le Soir newspaper that the diplomatic police “asked the family to leave the premises” and the situation was explained to the father the next day.
An embassy is not intended to “lodge people” applying for visas, he said.
In the end, Chinese police “escorted them away,” the Belgian ministry spokesman told AFP.
A few days later, Abula and her children were taken away by Xinjiang police, her husband said, and he has not heard from her since.
Reynders told the Belga news agency on Monday that the diplomat would go to the address given by the father to check if “everything is going well” with them.
“My only concern here is that we can reunite the family,” he told Belga.
On Monday the foreign ministry did not have confirmation that they were at home.
The case highlights the barriers Uighurs face in attempting to leave China.
According to human rights groups, authorities in Xinjiang have confiscated passports of Uighurs, making it difficult for them to join their relatives overseas.
Abula and her children too have struggled to obtain passports — an issue that Belgium’s ambassador will take up with China’s director of consular affairs, Reynders told Belga.
Abula applied for a passport in 2017, but never received one, according to receipts seen by AFP.
Tursun believes that the family “took a risk” by traveling outside Xinjiang in the first place.
“If my family then returns to (Xinjiang’s capital) Urumqi, it’s very likely that they will be sent to a concentration camp,” he wrote in March in an email to a non-profit helping the family with their visa application.