A lawsuit seeking to represent any woman with a claim against Harvey Weinstein can proceed on sex-trafficking grounds, a judge ruled Thursday, as he dramatically shrank the scope of an action trying to treat the disgraced movie producer and various companies like a mob organization.
U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein eliminated 17 claims against the once powerful movie mogul who has been accused by women in several lawsuits of seeking to trade his influence in Hollywood for sexual favors. Weinstein also faces trial in state court on criminal sexual assault charges.
The judge also reduced the number of named plaintiffs from 10 to four and dismissed all other defendants. The women had alleged they were attacked from 1993 to 2011. Weinstein has denied engaging in any nonconsensual sex.
Elior Shiloh, an attorney for Weinstein, said in a statement that his lawyers agree with Hellerstein's dismissal of most of the claims and will "explore all options" to get the final claim thrown out too.
Attorney Elizabeth Fegan, representing the women, said the judge ruled correctly that Weinstein should face the sex-trafficking allegation "that he used his power to deceive and manipulate women, knowing he intended to sexually abuse them."
"We are disappointed that certain claims were dismissed and plan to file an appeal," she said.
The lawsuit first filed in late 2017 had sought to represent "dozens, if not hundreds" of women who say they were isolated and attacked by Weinstein. Unspecified damages were sought.
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The lawsuit had also named companies and employees as defendants, saying they functioned together like an organized crime group to facilitate Weinstein's meetings with young women.
Hellerstein said he was dismissing all defendants except Weinstein because the lawsuit had insufficiently shown that they assisted, supported or facilitated sex trafficking.
Other claims were dismissed because the alleged assaults occurred too long ago and lawyers had not adequately explained why they were not brought within a time period set by law.
Lawyers for the women said the delay resulted because defendants made hush payments to victims, told victims to stay quiet, sent threatening text messages, forwarded victim complaints to Weinstein and retained lawyers to blacklist victims and intimidate journalists.
"These actions, although reprehensible, did not use fraud, misrepresentation, or deception to prevent plaintiffs from filing suit," Hellerstein said.
Weinstein was ousted from the movie company he founded after a barrage of sexual harassment and assault allegations started becoming public in October 2017.
Weinstein's lawyers argued it wasn't fair to let aspiring actresses equate Hollywood's casting couch with a brothel.
But Hellerstein wrote that the sex-trafficking law is appropriate if victims are enticed into sexual acts with false promises of career advancement.