After years of waiting and delayed trials during the #MeToo era, Harvey Weinstein’s day in court is finally here. But, it took a long time to get here.
As of January 2020, at least 100 women have come forward with allegations of either sexual assault or harassment by Weinstein. Currently, he’s been charged with five counts of predatory sexual assault, criminal sex acts, and rape. On January 6, in a Manhattan courthouse, many women waited to make their stories heard — with others still waiting — to those who could provide Weinstein life-long consequences.
Still, Weinstein’s lawyers have fought tooth and nail to suppress testimonies and relieve him of consequences. In fact, prosecutors have already dropped charges related to one accuser, Lucia Evans. Many women (currently remaining anonymous) are expected to testify during this trial, and prosecutors are hoping that the cumulative cases stacked against him with numerous stories from survivors will show Weinstein’s pattern as a serial abuser. And, on Thursday, former Sopranos star Annabella Sciorra gave a heartbreaking testimony where she ultimately said that Weinstein raped her in open court.
With so many women aligned in the courtroom, not all of them are fighting against Weinstein. Donna Rotunno, the defense attorney behind Harvey Weinstein’s best-that-money-can-buy defense team, is here to fight for his innocence. So who exactly is Donna Rotunno and why is she choosing to defend Weinstein?
Rotunno is a lawyer who hails from Chicago and has a history of representing men accused of sexual assault. Most importantly, she explicitly says she does not believe Weinstein is guilty of any crimes. As to why she took this case in particular, Rotunno told the Chicago Sun-Times that, “Everyone deserves a defense,” adding, “I think for me — why I take these cases — is I do believe we can be effective for him.”
According to Rotunno, her part in the Weinstein trial is to help convince women to take responsibility for their own actions. But in doing so, she also strips Weinstein of responsibility and consequences and effectively takes agency away from the women he’s hurt. In no uncertain terms, it’s troubling enough that Rotunno has chosen to defend Weinstein — one of the most powerful people in the history of Hollywood.
While Sciorra took the stand during her Thursday testimony, Rotunno maintained a strategy to change the narrative of Weinstein's alleged rape by asking the actress why she was in the situation to begin with. During the cross-examination, Rotunno harped on Sciorra's decision to open her door wearing a cotton nightgown, though she did not even know Weinstein was behind it.
Part of Rotunno's troubling strategy is clear: she claims that trading your body for work may just be part of what women signed up for when they entered Hollywood. She says that her goal is for her clients “to be able to walk out of there — even if they’ve been beaten, battered, scarred, bruised — and at least have that order that says ‘A court found me not guilty,’ that’s important to me.”
This past December, Rotunno spoke directly to the women accusing Weinstein of sexual assault in an interview with ABC, dismissing all claims. “If you don’t want to be a victim, don’t go to the hotel room,” Rotunno said.
With a predatory sexual assault charge against him, Weinstein could potentially serve a life sentence if the jury finds him guilty. Rottuno and the rest of his defense team are doing everything they can to avoid that, and to up scrutiny of the women instead of Weinstein. The women at the trial, however, want the focus to be on his actions. But accusers are fortifying, preparing to testify and prove a history of predatory behavior that will force Weinstein, in no uncertain terms, to confront and pay for his actions — regardless of any outlandish defense tactics that attempt to dismantle their cases.