Oscar announcement day used to bring good news for Harvey Weinstein. Instead, the once high-flying movie mogul on Tuesday learned that a federal judge in New York wouldn’t pause a class action brought by 10 of his female accusers.
Louisette Geiss is one of many women now suing Weinstein for assault, battery and infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiffs are also targeting Disney, Miramax and members of the Weinstein Co. board with racketeering and negligent supervision claims for allegedly having knowledge and being complicit in the abuse.
For Weinstein, the civil case is a complication.
As he heads to a trial as soon as May for allegedly sexually assaulting two women, he is now seeking new criminal representation after the withdrawal of attorney Benjamin Brafman. Weinstein hoped for the Bill Cosby treatment — in other words, that a judge would stay the class action to allow the criminal case from New York prosecutors to go first.
Weinstein argued that there was overlap between the cases and that if he was called to testify in an early deposition, he might have to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. His attorneys told the court that Weinstein should not be “forced to make the difficult choice between being prejudiced in the civil litigation, if he asserts his Fifth Amendment privilege or from being prejudiced in the criminal litigation if he … waives that privilege in the civil litigation.”
In response, the plaintiffs in the civil case urged no pause in the proceedings and added that it would be them experiencing prejudice due to the depletion of Weinstein’s financial resources to pay a possible judgment.
“At this stage in the litigation, Weinstein’s Fifth Amendment concerns are merely speculative,” stated a brief in opposition. “No testimony is required of Weinstein at this early pleading stage. The briefing and hearing on any motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint will not implicate Weinstein’s Fifth Amendment rights whatsoever.”
On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein sided with the women and directed Weinstein to file his motion to dismiss on or before Jan. 28. Oral arguments will take place on March 7, which just so happens to be the same date of the next hearing in the criminal case.
In somewhat better news for Weinstein, the judge rejected a bid from the women to restrain his use of documents obtained in discovery in the bankruptcy proceeding. The women complained that Weinstein was using their private information to wage a public battle. Weinstein responded that the First Amendment allowed him to defend himself and that such an order would amount to a veritable gag order. On this issue alone, Hellerstein favors the embattled Weinstein.