12:03pm PT by Jonathan Handel
Disgraced Attorney Brings New Harvey Weinstein Accuser to 'Megyn Kelly Today'
Two new Harvey Weinstein accusers, former production assistant Mimi Haleyi and actress Dominique Huett, appeared on NBC's Megyn Kelly Today on Wednesday morning, along with their respective attorneys. Both accused Weinstein of forcibly performing oral sex on them. Huett is suing The Weinstein Co. for negligence for allegedly enabling the disgraced mogul's behavior, and she and her attorney held a press conference Wednesday in Los Angeles.
But her attorney, Florida-based Jeff Herman, has a record of court-adjudicated dishonesty and of representing at least one dishonest client in high-profile allegations against the entertainment industry. It's a past that raises uncomfortable questions about Huett's allegations.
Herman told Kelly, "We are putting the casting couch on trial here," but it's not the first time the sex abuse attorney has come to Hollywood to clean up the town. His previous outing ended in disgrace and an apology and settlement from Herman himself, who also had previously been suspended by the Florida State Supreme Court and barred for life by an Oregon federal judge. Meanwhile, Herman's client in that 2014 endeavor ended up in federal prison on unrelated fraud charges for lying to investors and forging documents.
During her show, Kelly said more than 65 women have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment and in some cases sexual assault and rape. (THR's count is at least 50.) His spokesperson has previously denied all non-consensual sexual contact by Weinstein. He has not been sued by any of the accusers nor charged with any crime, although police in New York, Los Angeles and London are investigating.
Huett and Herman's suit against the company is the first litigation from an accuser. But given Herman's past, a serious question accompanies the new lawsuit: Are the allegations true, or are they an attempt to leverage other accusers' assertions?
Although the number of accusers against Weinstein lends credibility to the accusations, in a feeding frenzy there should still be some pause when examining individual claims. That's not to diminish Huett's story. Nor is it to diminish the importance of the intense reaction. A dam has burst and the industry — and perhaps even the larger culture — may be at a long-overdue turning point when it comes to tolerance of sexual abuse of women (and men).
But, unfortunately, unscrupulous people sometimes take advantage of opportunity. In the absence of any court judgments, an attorney's credibility is one factor the public has to use in judging a particular accuser's accusations. And Herman's involvement makes questions impossible to avoid.
When contacted for comment, Herman called his history of dishonesty and of having brought people into disrepute on false accusations "irrelevant blemishes" on his record. But those "blemishes" were scarcely irrelevant to those he and his then-client falsely accused. Herman also called this article "victim shaming" (it isn't) and a "reason many victims fear coming forward with such claims" (untrue — victims more likely anticipate damage to their own reputations, not a revelation that their attorney is dishonest).
For the record, this article isn't an attempt to discredit Huett's story, and if she had different counsel, the story would be different and her attorney might hardly be mentioned. But as a legal blog, we routinely delve deep into backstory, the lawyers involved, the way litigation interplays with the media and an analysis of how courts regard claims and credibility. And Herman's past behavior is troubling.
In 2014, the attorney swept into town with dramatic accusations against director Bryan Singer: that he had repeatedly drugged and forcibly raped Herman's client Michael Egan some 15 years earlier, while Egan was a teen. The lawsuit was filed in Hawaii, one of the two locales where the abuse was alleged to have taken place, but Herman's white-hot press conference announcing the suit was held in Los Angeles.
That press conference was followed by another a few days later, this time accusing three entertainment executives of identical behavior against Egan. They weren't famous names, but the first press conference had stoked media appetite for the second. It was a standing-room-only affair featuring Herman, Egan and the latter's tearful mother, Bonnie Mound, who afterwards threw herself unexpectedly on this reporter's shoulder and sobbed.
Together, the two press conferences ignited a firestorm of negative publicity against the defendants, which Herman used in an attempt to drum up additional clients. Indeed, correspondence that later emerged between Herman and his co-counsel listed additional Hollywood gay men they intended to target.
The litigation filings against all four men were effectively carbon copies of each other. But the cases fell apart when it emerged that none of them had been in Hawaii during the times alleged and that Egan had previously made sworn statements that excluded them as abusers. Herman withdrew the suits weeks after filing them, just as the men filed motions to dismiss.
One of the executives then filed a countersuit for malicious prosecution against Egan and his attorneys, later joined by another of the execs, who filed a similar suit. In the course of the proceedings, Egan was scolded by a federal judge for lying to his face. Herman and his co-counsel ultimately settled the suits, paying a significant sum and issuing apologies.
"I participated in making what I now know to be untrue and provably false allegations against you," Herman said in letters addressed to the two men who countersued. "I have resolved this matter with compensation to you. I am hopeful that you can recover fully."
However, the reputational damage had been done. All four men continue to be haunted by the allegations. A comparison of The Hollywood Reporter hit counts shows that the accusation stories garnered about 10 times the number of readers as the exoneration story. And just days ago, in casual conversation with this reporter, a knowledgeable and well-connected gay entertainment personality expressed surprise about Singer, aware of the allegations but not of the outcome. "You mean Bryan Singer isn't a child molester?" he asked.
Meanwhile, Egan filed bankruptcy to escape the malicious prosecution suits. But he couldn't escape the clutches of the FBI, which delivered 121,000 pages of evidence to Egan's criminal attorney regarding a scheme in which Egan allegedly lied to investors and forged bank statements. He pled guilty to one count of securities fraud and went to federal prison.
But Herman's then-client wasn't the only one playing fast and loose with the truth. Herman has a record of dishonesty, too. In 2009, the Florida State Supreme Court suspended Herman for 18 months for actions adverse to a client and engaging in "conduct involving dishonesty [or] deceit," arising out of a conflict of interest. The court said that Herman's "failure to call [the client] and inform him of his activities was dishonest and deceitful."
And that wasn't Herman's only black mark. In 1997, an Oregon federal judge took the unusual step of barring Herman and a now-senior colleague from his courtroom for life for what the court called "misrepresentations" by the attorneys. "[A]ll right, now Mr. Herman, we are having a little credibility problem here," said the judge before issuing his order, which was upheld on appeal by the Ninth Circuit.
The question now is whether Herman's past credibility problems will shadow his new client's allegations, even as women and men struggle to end long-standing patterns of abuse by men with power. It's a critical question for Hollywood, and indeed for the world, not to mention for a country whose president received about 63 million votes notwithstanding a damning sexual abuse tape. It would be a shame if dishonest people tainted a real issue. But as Herman's record demonstrates, it's happened before. This didn't stop Kelly — herself a former lawyer — from giving him a platform on Wednesday's show.
Oct. 25, 3:36 p.m. Updated with response from Herman and with additional links to 2014-15 reporting.