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Harvey Weinstein’s conviction overturned by top New York court

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Harvey Weinstein’s 2020 conviction for sexual assault and rape was overturned on Thursday by New York’s highest court, reopening the landmark case that launched the #MeToo movement and highlighting the challenges of holding powerful men accountable.

In a 4-3 decision, the state Court of Appeals said the trial judge made a critical mistake by letting women testify that Weinstein assaulted them even though they were not part of the charges he faced.

Arthur Aidala, a lawyer for Weinstein, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. He told the New York Times that the decision upheld “the most basic principles” that criminal defendants should have at a trial.

The court also said the trial judge compounded the error by letting Weinstein be cross-examined in a way that portrayed him in a “highly prejudicial” light.

“It is an abuse of judicial discretion to permit untested allegations of nothing more than bad behavior that destroys a defendant’s character but sheds no light on their credibility as related to the criminal charges,” Judge Jenny Rivera wrote for the majority.

“The remedy for these egregious errors is a new trial,” she added.

In a sharp dissent, Judge Madeline Singas said the decision “perpetuates outdated notions of sexual violence and allows predators to escape accountability.

She also accused the majority of “whitewashing the facts” and continuing a “disturbing trend” of overturning jury verdicts in sexual violence cases.

Former comedian Bill Cosby saw his 2018 sexual assault conviction overturned three years later by Pennsylvania’s highest court. It said a 2005 agreement not to charge Cosby with drugging and assaulting a woman meant he should not have been charged a decade later.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose predecessor Cyrus Vance brought the case, will have to decide how to proceed against Weinstein.

“We will do everything in our power to retry this case, and remain steadfast in our commitment to survivors of sexual assault,” Emily Tuttle, a spokesperson for Bragg, said in an email.

Weinstein, 72, has been serving a 23-year prison sentence, after being convicted in February 2020 of sexually assaulting a former production assistant in 2006, and raping an aspiring actress in 2013.

Bragg’s office is separately in the middle of a criminal hush money trial against former U.S. President Donald Trump.

It was not immediately clear how the decision would affect Weinstein, who has been serving his sentence in upstate New York.

Even if he were not retried, he still faces a 16-year prison sentence in California after being convicted there last year for the 2013 rape of an actress in Los Angeles.

Weinstein’s conviction in New York was considered a milestone for #MeToo, in which women have accused hundreds of men in entertainment, media, politics and other fields of sexual misconduct.

“Today’s decision is a major step back in holding those accountable for acts of sexual violence,” said Douglas Wigdor, a lawyer who represented eight of Weinstein’s accusers. “It will require the victims to endure yet another trial.”

Weinstein co-founded the Miramax film studio, whose hit movies included “Shakespeare in Love” and “Pulp Fiction.” His own eponymous film studio filed for bankruptcy in March 2018.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Brendan Pierson in New York, and Susan Heavey in Washington; editing by Paul Grant and Jonathan Oatis)