New York -- A New York judge has ruled a sexual assault case against Harvey Weinstein can move forward, rejecting the latest push from the disgraced film producer's lawyers to have his indictment thrown out.
Judge James Burke's ruling buoyed a prosecution that has appeared on rocky ground in recent months amid a prolonged defense effort to raise doubts about the case and the police investigation. The case has beenin the investigation that led to Weinstein's arrest.
Burke made his ruling Thursday after a flurry of court papers in which Weinstein's lawyers say the case has devolved into chaos and prosecutors argue there's ample evidence to move forward to trial.
Weinstein, 66, seized on the alleged police misconduct and put forth a witness who says his rape accuser pressured her to corroborate her story.
Weinstein's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said the case was "irreparably tainted" by police Det. Nicholas DiGaudio's alleged interference with a witness and an accuser and asked the judge to toss the charges.
"The only reasonably prudent decision would be to stop this chaos now," Brafman said in a court filing.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Wilson fired back, saying "there is no possibility" that the allegations against DiGaudio "in any way impaired the integrity of the grand jury or prejudiced the defendant."
Weinstein is accused of raping a woman he knew in a hotel room in March 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on another woman in 2006 at his Manhattan apartment. He denies all allegations of nonconsensual sex.
Weinstein is charged with two counts of predatory sexual assault, one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree, and one count each of rape in the first and third degree.
The case has been heavily scrutinized in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which exploded last year after numerous women made allegations against Weinstein.
A key ruling
Weinstein arrived at the Manhattan courthouse shortly before 9:30 a.m. to attend the brief hearing, which lasted about 10 minutes. Burke did not discuss his reasoning to deny the defense motion to toss the charges in court. But in a written ruling, Burke said that in order for the charges to be dismissed, Weinstein would have needed to prove that the grand jury would have declined to indict him in absence of the purported misconduct.
Burke wrote, "this demanding test is met only where the prosecutor engaged in an overall pattern of bias and misconduct that is pervasive and typically willful."
He also found that prosecutors had no duty to present evidence favorable to Weinstein during the grand jury proceedings. Brafman argued the grand jury should have been shown evidence that Weinstein had exchanged friendly emails with his two accusers after the alleged attacks.
"The Court finds that there is no basis for the defendant's claim of prosecutorial or law enforcement misconduct in the proceedings, or pervasive falsity in and around the Grand Jury presentation," the judge ruled.
Burke could have dismissed some or all of the charges, which would have been a major setback for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who was criticized for declining to pursue criminal charges against Weinstein when he was accused of groping an Italian model in 2015. Vance cited a lack of supporting evidence at the time, despite the existence of a clandestinely made recording of Weinstein discussing the episode with the woman.
Brafman argued that Vance was under "political pressure" to prosecute Weinstein, but Burke called that "speculative."
Images of Weinstein, the notoriously bombastic producer of Oscar winners "Shakespeare in Love" and "The English Patient," in handcuffs last spring were seen by many women as a cathartic moment in the #MeToo reckoning. About half a dozen women supporting Time's Up, including actresses Amber Tamblyn and Marisa Tomei, were at the hearing Thursday.
"Today, here in New York, we saw the first steps towards justice," Time's Up President Lisa Borders said after the judge's ruling.
Alleged police misconduct
Weinstein's case started to turn in October when Manhattan prosecutorsafter evidence surfaced that DiGaudio instructed a potential witness in the case to keep some of her doubts about the veracity of the allegations to herself.
DiGaudio allegedly told the witness last February that "less is more" but kept prosecutors in the dark. That witness never testified before the grand jury that indicted Weinstein.
Prosecutors also disclosed an allegation that DiGaudio urged the 2013 rape accuser tobefore handing them over to the DA's office. Prosecutors said the material didn't pertain to Weinstein and the woman wound up not deleting anything.
Late last month, Weinstein's lawyers said they spoke to a woman who said the rape accuser asked her to corroborate her allegations, but the friend wouldn't "make up a story."
The friend told investigators that Weinstein and the accuser had been "hooking up" consensually for a while and that she never heard her say anything bad about him until last year, Brafman said in a court filing.
Brafman said after the hearing he's disappointed by the judge's ruling but is prepared to go to trial and expects Weinstein will be exonerated.
Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents the 2006 accuser, Mimi Haleyi, supported the judge's decision to allow the case to move forward.
"None of us are ever distracted from the fact that there's only one person on trial here -- it's not the district attorney, it's not the police, it's Harvey Weinstein," Allred said.