Legal experts explain the potential legal action facing Harvey Weinstein in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct
The mounting allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against Harvey Weinstein could have major legal ramifications for the Hollywood mogul, from civil suits to criminal charges.
In accounts in the New York Times, the New Yorker and elsewhere, more than 20 women have spoken out against the producer, with allegations including rape, forced oral sex, groping and harassment. The alleged incidents took place over multiple decades and in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and Cannes. (“Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein,” his spokesperson said Tuesday.)
The women involved could seek criminal charges or pursue civil lawsuits against Weinstein, legal experts say — but both carry very specific statutes of limitations.
“It depends when it happened,” says New York criminal defense attorney Stuart Slotnick of the alleged misconduct and assault. “If a woman comes forward and says this happened on this date and it’s within the statute of limitations, there is a likelihood that a prosecutor will look at it and take the case. The statute of limitations in New York used to be five years but it was extended in many cases because of different circumstances.
“In prosecution for a Class A felony, and rape in the first degree or aggravated sexual abuse, there’s no statute of limitations. For any other felonies it’s five years. So there’s some crimes of rape where there’s no statute and some where it’s five years. Rape in the first degree would be forcible compulsion.”
California recently ended its 10-year statute of limitations for rape cases. The new law lifting limitations for “the prosecution of rape, sodomy, lewd or lascivious acts, continuous sexual abuse of a child, oral copulation, and sexual penetration, that are committed under certain circumstances,” went into effect January 1, 2017, but only applies to crimes committed after that date.
New York City’s Chief Assistant District Attorney Karen Friedman-Agnifilo’s office fielded a complaint in 2015 of sexual assault against Weinstein by Italian model Ambra Battilana but did not bring charges (Battilana reportedly settled out of court with Weinstein). They’re now encouraging any person who may have been victimized by Weinstein to come forward.
“If we could have prosecuted Harvey Weinstein for the conduct that occurred in 2015, we would have. Mr. Weinstein’s pattern of mistreating women, as recounted in recent reports, is disgraceful and shocks the conscience,” Friedman-Agnifilo said in a statement. “Any individual who feels that she may have been the victim of a crime by this person in Manhattan is strongly encouraged to contact our Office’s Sex Crimes Hotline at (212) 335-9373.”
Attorney Angela Reddock-Wright, founding and managing partner of the L.A.-based Reddock Law Group, tells PEOPLE that the level of potential charges depend on the evidence gathered against Weinstein.
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“In a criminal matter, it would be up to the District Attorney’s office to determine if there’s sufficient evidence of sexual assault, or battery or related claims to pursue criminal actions against him,” says Reddock-Wright. “I think it would really depend on if the L.A. County District Attorney’s office tries to make him sort of the poster child of this type of behavior and how aggressive they would be in pursuing actions against him,” says Reddock-Wright. Jail time is a possibility for the highest-level charges, but if Weinstein is prosecuted for a lower-level charge, “it would be very likely he would plead to some type of action that would possibly keep him out of jail but on very strict probation.”
Reddock-Wright adds that the statute for civil suits is much shorter — one year for alleged misconduct, with one caveat.
“Even though they’re making allegations from many, many years back, the only actionable conduct is within the last year — unless they can claim they made complaints to his company, the company didn’t do anything and so the statute of limitations is continued,” she says. “But from a traditional analysis sense, the only allegations that would be actionable would be from the last year, or a year from the report of the alleged misconduct.”
Reddock-Wright predicts that Weinstein and his lawyers will settle any lawsuits privately in order to avoid the courts and more public scrutiny. In the wake of the scandal, Weinstein has hired attorney Blair Berk – whose client roster has included Britney Spears, Kiefer Sutherland, Heather Locklear, Mel Gibson and Leonardo DiCaprio – as well as the firm of Patricia Glaser. Since the first New York Times story broke, Weinstein lost lawyers Lisa Bloom and Lanny Davis.
“He’s admitted to the behavior on some level,” she says. (“I so respect all women and regret what happened,” Weinstein said in a statement last week, saying he was seeking therapy “to conquer my demons.”) “So I think with that he may be a little more incentivized to settle these cases sooner rather than later. I don’t think he’s going to want to sit in multiple depositions and everything that comes with a criminal trial. My sense is with him resigning from the company, he’s probably going to want to take a lower profile and try to move on with his life in the extent he can.”
Slotnick foresees a flood of civil action against Weinstein and his former company in the near future.
“I think there’s no question we’re going to see a flow of lawsuits going his way over the next couple of months,” Slotnick says. “The final area is whether the company has any liability, and I think it’s clear based on recent information that there will be lawsuits not only against Weinstein but against his company as well.”
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The Weinstein sexual harassment scandal was first revealed by The New York Times last week. Eight women, including actress Ashley Judd, came forward in the NYT story to accuse the film mogul of sexual misconduct, and the NYT also reported that at least eight women reached private settlements with Weinstein. He was subsequently fired from his company as numerous Hollywood stars have spoken out against him.
On Tuesday, the The New Yorker revealed — among 13 different women’s accounts of alleged sexual harassment, assault or rape — that the mogul allegedly forcibly performed oral sex on Italian actress Asia Argento two decades ago. Actresses Mira Sorvino and Rosanna Arquette also claimed that after rejecting Weinstein’s unwanted advances, they were removed from or kept from being hired for projects.
On Tuesday multiple sources confirmed to PEOPLE that Weinstein plans to enter a residential treatment facility.