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Judge declines to throw out Harvey Weinstein criminal case

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NEW YORK — A New York judge declined to dismiss sexual assault charges against Harvey Weinstein Thursday, rejecting the latest push from the disgraced film producer’s lawyers to have his indictment thrown out.

Judge James Burke’s ruling buoyed a prosecution that has appeared on rocky ground in recent months amid a prolonged defence effort to raise doubts about the case and the police investigation.

Weinstein’s lawyers argued the case had been “irreparably tainted” by a detective’s alleged coaching of a potential witness and one of the accusers. They also said the grand jury should have been shown evidence that Weinstein had exchanged friendly emails with his two accusers after the alleged attacks.

But Burke ruled that Weinstein’s claims of prosecutorial misconduct had “no basis.” He also denied Weinstein’s request for an evidentiary hearing.

Weinstein’s next court date is scheduled for March 7.

Weinstein’s defence attorney, Benjamin Brafman, said he was disappointed with Burke’s ruling, but said he remains confident Weinstein will be “completely exonerated” at trial.

“We intend to vigorously defend this case to the best of our ability,” Brafman told reporters after the hearing. “It does not in any way suggest that the case against Mr. Weinstein is going to end badly.”

Weinstein has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex. He pleaded not guilty and is free on $1 million bail. He left court without commenting.

He is charged with raping an unidentified female acquaintance in his hotel room in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006. The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assaults unless they come forward publicly.

Images of Weinstein, the notoriously bombastic producer of Oscar winners “Shakespeare in Love” and “The English Patient,” in handcuffs last spring were seen by many women as a cathartic moment in the #MeToo reckoning. About half a dozen women supporting Time’s Up, including actresses Amber Tamblyn and Marisa Tomei, were at the hearing Thursday.

“Today, here in New York, we saw the first steps towards justice,” Time’s Up President Lisa Borders said after the judge’s ruling.

Burke could have dismissed some or all of the charges, which would have been a major setback for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who was criticized for declining to pursue criminal charges against Weinstein when he was accused of groping an Italian model in 2015. Vance cited a lack of supporting evidence at the time, despite the existence of a clandestinely made recording of Weinstein discussing the episode with the woman.

But in recent months, Weinstein worked side-by-side with Brafman to throw doubt on the case and his accusers. They plucked emails from his movie studio’s servers they say showed Weinstein had friendly, consensual relationships with the women.

Weinstein’s defence was boosted in October by back-to-back allegations of misconduct in the police investigation.

Manhattan prosecutors dropped one of the charges against him — allegations that he raped an aspiring actress who was still in college — after evidence surfaced that Det. Nicholas DiGaudio instructed a potential witness to keep some of her doubts about the veracity of the allegations to herself.

DiGaudio allegedly told the witness in February that when she spoke to prosecutors, “less is more.” That witness never testified before the grand jury that indicted Weinstein.

Burke, in his ruling, noted that count was dismissed not because prosecutors disbelieved the alleged victim but because they determined they may not have been able to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

Prosecutors also disclosed an allegation that DiGaudio urged the 2013 rape accuser to delete private material from her cellphones before handing them over to the DA’s office.

Prosecutors said the material didn’t pertain to Weinstein and the woman wound up not deleting anything. DiGaudio’s union has said he “was simply trying to get to the truth” and wasn’t trying to influence the investigation.

Late last month, Weinstein’s lawyers said they spoke to a woman who said the rape accuser asked her to corroborate her allegations, but the friend wouldn’t “make up a story.”

The friend told investigators that Weinstein and the accuser had been “hooking up” consensually for a while and that she never heard her say anything bad about him until last year, Brafman said in a court filing.

In the months after The New York Times and The New Yorker began publishing stories about Weinstein’s interactions with women, activists pressured Vance to bring charges as dozens of people came forward with claims of sexual misconduct against him.

New York Police officials poured on the pressure, too, saying publicly they believed they had gathered ample evidence to make an arrest.

Burke’s ruling revealed that Weinstein had agreed in May to testify before the grand jury considering his case. He was arrested days later and then withdrew his notice to testify before the grand jury that charged him.

Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press




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Implementation of Divorce Act reforms delayed eight months by pandemic

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OTTAWA — Highly anticipated reforms to Canadian divorce law have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reforms were to have gone into effect on July 1 but Justice Minister David Lametti says that has been pushed back to March 1, 2021.

He says courts across the country are currently hearing only urgent family law matters during the pandemic as they attempt to abide by restrictions to stem the spread of the virus.

Lametti says that, combined with how much governments are focused on the health crisis, has made it impossible to take the steps needed to implement the reforms.

Postponing the changes was decided in consultation with provincial and territorial governments, who Lametti says need time to adjust their own laws and regulations to be compatible with the federal reforms.

The reforms, which will apply only to legally married couples, are aimed at putting more emphasis on the interests of the child in custody decisions and would for the first time require the courts to take into account any instances of family violence.

“We understand how important the changes to the Divorce Act are to Canadians affected by separation and divorce, especially to vulnerable family members,” Lametti said in a statement Friday.

“We are working hard with our partners to implement these changes.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in domestic abuse as schools and workplaces shut down and Canadians isolated themselves at home.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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Liberal MP Marwan Tabbara faces assault, break and enter, harassment charges

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OTTAWA — Ontario MP Marwan Tabbara “stepped back” from the governing Liberal caucus Friday after multiple charges of assault, break and enter and harassment were laid against him.

In a statement issued late Friday, the two-term MP for the riding of Kitchener South-Hespeler said he’s receiving counselling for anxiety and depression.

“Other than to state unequivocally that every incident of violence is unacceptable and inexcusable, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further while this matter is before the court,” he said.

Tabbara said he deplores “violence in all its forms” and believes “strongly in the right of every individual to live a life free of the hurt and trauma of physical, verbal or emotional abuse.”

“I am currently facing criminal charges which arose in April. There are mandatory steps that must be taken to address a criminal case, and those steps take time, particularly with delays due to the pandemic,” he added.

“Meanwhile, I continue to receive counselling and treatment for anxiety and depression, which I have been living with for some time.”

Tabbara has been charged with two counts of assault, one count of breaking and entering to commit an indictable offence, and one count of criminal harassment. The charges follow his arrest on April 10 in Guelph, Ont.

Until the matter is resolved, Tabbara said he “will be stepping back from the Liberal caucus.” He promised to “continue to work diligently” for his constituents.

The Prime Minister’s Office said it only learned about the charges Friday morning and was “looking into the matter.”

Tabbara, first elected in 2015 and re-elected last fall, is scheduled to appear in court June 19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2020.

The Canadian Press





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