Harvey Weinstein and several of his accusers arrived at a Manhattan courthouse on Monday as they prepared for the start of a criminal trial that will mark the culmination of sexual abuse claims against the disgraced movie mogul that sparked the #MeToo movement.
The first step in the high-profile trial, which is expected to last for about two months, will be to select the 12 jurors who will decide the fate of Mr Weinstein. That is expected to start on Tuesday.
The former producer behind films such as Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love faces five charges including rape and predatory sexual assault, which in New York carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Mr Weinstein, who was released on $1m bail after his arrest in May 2018, has pleaded not guilty.
More than 80 women, including actors Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, have over the past two years accused Mr Weinstein of sexual abuse. However, the criminal trial in Manhattan state court will rule only on the claims of two unnamed women. Another case has already been dismissed by the court for having taken place too long ago.
Many of the Hollywood director’s accusers have said they remained silent for many years because of non-disclosure agreements, which they were asked to sign when they originally sought damages.
“A lot of victims sign these types of NDAs and they think — I’m going to start again, I’m going to take this cheque. I’m never going to speak of this again and I’m just going to start my life afresh. The thing is that life doesn’t happen like that,” Rowena Chiu, a former assistant to Mr Weinstein, told the Financial Times two months ago.
In December, Mr Weinstein and his bankrupt film studio separately agreed in principle a $45m settlement with a group of more than 30 women who had accused him of sexual assault, putting an end to practically all potential civil law suits against him. The settlement, which did not require Mr Weinstein to admit any wrongdoing, was criticised because a portion of the sum would cover legal fees for the board members of the Weinstein company, while some would go to its creditors.
Mr Weinstein has previously attended court hearings in New York appearing feeble, using a cane and being helped by handlers. He used a walking frame during his latest appearance.
In December, a Manhattan judge quintupled Mr Weinstein’s bail to $5m on allegations that he had failed dozens of times to properly wear his tracking device, leaving his whereabouts unknown for hours.
When the New York Times in late 2017 reported that Mr Weinstein had settled with several women who had accused him of sexual harassment during the past three decades, he initially said: “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologise for it”.