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Who is willing to defend Harvey Weinstein? A third high-powered lawyer wants off case

Richard Winton and James Queally, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Jose Baez, the lawyer who famously won an acquittal for Casey Anthony, no longer wants to defend Harvey Weinstein against sexual assault allegations in New York City, a representative for the disgraced mogul said Monday.

If Baez were to depart, he would be the third high-powered defense attorney to distance himself from Weinstein this year.

The Miramax co-founder, who has been accused of a range of misconduct from sexual harassment to sexual assault by more than 80 women in the U.S. and London, has been charged in connection with attacks on two women in New York and was expected to face trial this September.

Baez was hired in January after Weinstein's first attorney, Benjamin Brafman, asked to be relieved as the former Hollywood titan's counsel after the two began to wrestle over how to handle both the legal and public relations crises faced by Weinstein. Baez won a 2011 acquittal for Anthony, who was charged with murder in the death of her young daughter.

A source with knowledge of Weinstein's thinking told the Los Angeles Times that Baez started to backpedal last month after his co-counsel, Harvard law professor Ronald Sullivan, recused himself from the case. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss Weinstein's legal situation candidly.

Sullivan had written most of the legal team's motions since January and was orchestrating most of the trial prep, the source said.

A representative for Baez did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and a spokesman for the Manhattan district attorney's office declined to comment.

News of Baez's potential departure was first reported by the New York Post, which cited a letter Baez filed with Manhattan Supreme Court Judge James Burke asking to be allowed off the case.

In a statement, a representative for Weinstein also said Sullivan's departure may have prompted Baez's request to step down.

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"When one of the team members left the case due to the personal pressures that were placed on him, it removed a critical component to the team and legal strategy, which was not yet being filled," the statement read. "Mr. Weinstein will shortly be welcoming a team that will fulfill each of the essential components needed to properly serve his due process and his rigorous defense."

The spokesman would not discuss who, if anyone, had expressed interest in representing Weinstein going forward.

In a video released last week, Sullivan and his wife, Stephanie Robinson, said they had been removed as faculty deans at Harvard because of Sullivan's decision to represent Weinstein. Sullivan cited a scheduling conflict as the reason he chose to step down as Weinstein's attorney in May, but he had also been the target of public protests on campus since he and Baez first took on Weinstein as a client.

Weinstein's trial date remains set for Sept. 9. It was not clear if the change in counsel would again delay Weinstein's day in court, as the trial was originally slated for June before Brafman's departure.

A judge rejected a motion to dismiss the criminal case against Weinstein last December, and he remains charged with five counts of sexual assault related to attacks on women in New York in 2006 and 2013. Criminal investigations related to reported assaults in Los Angeles; Beverly Hills, Calif., and London remain ongoing.

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