Is Harvey Weinstein Better Off With His New Legal Team?

Harvey Weinstein_Ron Sullivan_Jose Baez_ONE TIME USE - AP - H 2019
Mark Lennihan/AP

After the disgraced mogul's top lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, exits ahead of the May trial in a New York sexual assault case, four high-profile attorneys have been enlisted.

When word spread that Harvey Weinstein was parting ways with attorney Benjamin Brafman and shopping for a legal "dream team," experts questioned whether it was wise to evoke the memory of O.J. Simpson, whose 1995 acquittal remains controversial more than two decades after the verdict.

But one of Weinstein's four new lawyers, Florida-based criminal defense attorney Jose Baez, likely welcomes the comparison. His website is emblazoned with a banner that reads, "The Hispanic version of the late legal legend Johnnie Cochran," a quote attributed to CNN. When viewed in context of the original July 10, 2011, article, it's not quite the compliment it appears to be. The story, titled "Jose Baez: No longer a courtroom 'Bozo,' " was published days after his client Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her 2-year-old daughter. The story notes Baez was frequently scolded by the judge and mocked by trial watchers.

Thankfully for Baez, most people may recognize him from a more recent high-profile case. In 2017, along with partner and Weinstein co-counsel Ronald Sullivan Jr., Baez secured an acquittal for late New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was facing double murder charges in connection with a 2012 drive-by shooting.

The duo also represented Rose McGowan in connection with drug possession charges after cocaine was found in the wallet she left behind on a January 2017 flight. McGowan, who claims Weinstein raped her in 1997, also alleges the producer had someone plant those drugs. After the attorneys were hired by Weinstein, McGowan accused them of having been "bought off." Baez and Sullivan have stated that they don't believe it presents a conflict.

Denver-based lawyer Pamela Robillard Mackey, another addition, is no stranger to high-profile sexual assault cases. She represented Kobe Bryant in connection with a 2003 rape claim made by a 19-year-old hotel employee (prosecutors dropped the case because the accuser wouldn't testify).

Rounding out Weinstein's roster is former federal prosecutor Duncan Levin, who specializes in asset forfeiture and money laundering cases. Before entering private practice, Levin worked under Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and served as an assistant U.S. attorney.

It remains to be seen whether this group is an upgrade from Brafman. Criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos notes that the Manhattan courthouse where Weinstein will be tried is "an animal of its own" and that it was Brafman's home turf. "Jury selection in high-profile cases determines everything,” he says. “You have to know the intricacies of where people live, block by block, and what that says about them. You need to be steeped in that in order to adequately represent your client.”

One thing seems all but certain, given Baez’ proclivity for writing about his high-profile cases: No matter how Weinstein’s trial ends, there may be a Baez-authored book for Ryan Murphy to adapt into a future iteration of American Crime Story

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.