Many supporters of the #MeToo movement that Mr. Weinstein’s accusers helped ignite are looking to see whether the legal system can deliver justice for victims. Lawyers for Mr. Weinstein, who lost his company, his reputation and his marriage, are arguing that the case is proof that #MeToo has gone too far. At the courthouse, media from around the world, demonstrators outside and spectators in packed galleries will be watching.
But for all the expectations about the high-profile trial, the jurors will be hearing a narrow legal case, with an already-fraught back story and a highly unpredictable result.
While prosecutors intend to call several female witnesses to show a pattern of misconduct, the charges rest largely on two women. Mr. Weinstein is accused of forcing oral sex on a film production assistant and raping another woman, who is still anonymous, her story not publicly known. Most of the other allegations against Mr. Weinstein dated too far back to be prosecuted, fell outside New York’s jurisdiction or involved abusive behavior that was not criminal. Other accusers were unwilling to participate, convinced the personal toll would be too great.
The prosecutors’ path to the courthouse has been difficult. They were forced to drop one accuser who had been central to the case. The lead detective was ousted over allegations of police misconduct. And Mr. Weinstein, who claims his sexual encounters were consensual, produced emails that he says show a long, intimate relationship that continued after the alleged rape.
The defense team has its own tale of troubles. Mr. Weinstein, who could face life in prison if convicted on the most serious charge, has hired, alienated and discarded a series of high-powered lawyers. He has been accused of tampering with his electronic ankle bracelet, and tested the patience of the clearly annoyed judge who will preside over the proceedings. Just weeks ago, Mr. Weinstein deviated from his lawyers’ script with a tabloid interview in which he boasted of being a pioneering advocate for women in film and complained that his work had been forgotten.
The trial, expected to stretch more than two months, will begin with the judge’s instructions at the State Supreme Court in Manhattan, followed by two weeks of jury selection. Until opening arguments begin, it will be hard to gauge either side’s strength.
“I can’t think of another case where the defendant comes into trial at a larger disadvantage in terms of perception,” said Mark A. Bederow, a New York criminal defense lawyer and former Manhattan prosecutor. But, he cautioned, “evidence in the courtroom very often is not the evidence that appears in the public realm.”
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