Harvey Weinstein announces new defense team

Jose Baez, Ronald Sullivan to defend movie mogul

By CNN'S JEAN CASAREZ CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
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Harvey Weinstein arrives with his lawyer Ben Brafman for a court hearing at New York Criminal Court on Dec. 20, 2018, in New York City.

(CNN) - Harvey Weinstein has assembled a cadre of new high-profile attorneys this week for his upcoming sexual assault case after his recent public split with famed New York criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Brafman.

Jose Baez and Harvard Law School professor Ronald Sullivan will spearhead Weinstein's new defense team, which will also include the lawyer who helped Kobe Bryant fight a sexual assault charge and a former federal prosecutor, sources tell CNN.

Baez defended Casey Anthony in her acquittal in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, and he and Sullivan successfully defended Aaron Hernandez, the former NFL star who later took his life in prison while serving a murder sentence.

"I am pleased to confirm that I along with Jose Baez have been retained by Harvey Weinstein," according to the statement released by Sullivan that was obtained by CNN on Wednesday.

"Mr. Weinstein steadfastly maintains his innocence in this matter and we are looking forward to assisting Mr. Weinstein in his defense."

The disgraced movie mogul whose downfall helped launch the #MeToo movement is accused of raping a woman in a New York hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on another woman at his Manhattan apartment in 2006.

He faces five felony charges: two counts of predatory sexual assault, one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree and one count each of first-degree rape and third-degree rape. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Pamela Mackey, who defended former NBA star Bryant in his 2003 sexual assault case, has joined the Weinstein defense team as well, according to a Weinstein spokesman.

"I'm thrilled to work with Jose and Ron who are friends, and as they said, Harvey Weinstein is innocent and we are here to exonerate him," Mackey said in a statement provided by Weinstein's spokesman.

Weinstein and Brafman made their split official last week in a joint statement, saying they agreed to "part ways amicably."

All are expected to be in court at 9:30 a.m. Friday to make the transition official before Judge James Burke.

"We have put together a strong defense team who have the expertise and experience to rightly present the narrative, through needed due process, which has been subjectively shaped by too many others until now," a spokesman for Weinstein said in a statement.

Baez and Sullivan previously represented actress Rose McGowan -- one of 80 women to come forward with allegations against the former film executive -- in an unrelated drug possession case in which she pleaded no contest earlier this year.

"After consultation with ethics counsel, we are certain no conflict of interest exists," Baez and Sullivan said in a statement. "We wish Ms. McGowan well with all her future endeavors."

CNN has reached out to McGowan for comment, but has not yet heard back.

Baez, known in legal circles for being a charismatic attorney who connects with jurors, garnered the national spotlight with high-profile clients like Anthony and Hernandez.

Anthony faced charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter of a child and four counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer in her daughter Caylee's 2008 disappearance and death.

The Miami-based attorney stunned the nation by saving Anthony from a possible death sentence by winning her acquittal of the murder and other serious charges.

Baez later defended Hernandez in 2016 after he was charged with shooting and killing two men outside a Boston nightclub in 2012. Hernandez, who at the time was serving a life sentence for the murder of his friend Odin Lloyd, was acquitted of the killings.

Hernandez was later found hanged in his prison cell in April 2017.

Sullivan, a longtime criminal defense attorney and criminal justice reform advocate who also worked on the Hernandez case, represented the family of Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. He spent his early legal career at the Public Defender Service in Washington.

New York attorney Duncan Levin confirmed Wednesday he will serve as local counsel for Weinstein since Sullivan and Baez are from out of state. Levin will not be trying the case. He previously was a prosecutor at the US Justice Department as well as on senior staff in the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Meanwhile, Brafman, whose earlier clients include Martin Shkreli, Plaxico Burress, Sean Combs and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, declined to comment on Weinstein's new defense team.

In a joint statement last week, Brafman reiterated his belief that Weinstein would be exonerated.

"Brafman personally wished Mr. Weinstein the best of luck as he defends the case and the accusations that Mr. Weinstein has vehemently denied," according to the statement.

Speaking to CNN in August, Brafman said it would be "difficult but not impossible" to seat an impartial jury in Weinstein's trial.

Weinstein had faced a sixth felony charge, but it was dismissed in October after a New York police detective was found to have mishandled evidence. Weinstein's petition to dismiss the remaining charges was declined in December.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Ronald Sullivan was among the attorneys on Casey Anthony's defense team.

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