New Harvey Weinstein trial starts with graphic allegations

Former film producer Harvey Weinstein appears in court in Los Angeles

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted young women hoping to make it in Hollywood, a Los Angeles prosecutor argued on Monday, while the former producer's attorney said his accusers willingly took part in a "casting couch" culture to boost their careers.

Weinstein, the man who became the face of #MeToo allegations five years ago, is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence for sex crimes in New York. He is now on trial in Los Angeles on 11 charges of rape and sexual assault and has pleaded not guilty.

In opening statements, Deputy District Attorney Paul Thompson offered graphic details and quotes from women who said Weinstein invited them to hotel rooms for purported business meetings between 1991 and 2015.

"He was trying to keep his penis in my mouth," Thompson quoted one as saying.

He quoted another as saying Weinstein undressed her and fondled her breast while masturbating.

Weinstein, seated in the courtroom in a dark suit and tie, occasionally shook his head while Thompson spoke.

Alleged incidents involving four of the women are the basis of the charges against Weinstein. The other four women, who had encounters outside of Los Angeles, will be presented by prosecutors to try to establish a pattern of behavior.

Weinstein lawyer Mark Werksman told jurors that each allegation was a "weak and unsubstantiated trickle that will evaporate upon your close scrutiny."

"You’ll learn that in Hollywood, sex was a commodity,"Werksman said. "It was the casting couch. Everyone did it ... because each wanted something from another," Werksman said.

"Now look at him," Werksman added. "He’s not Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Do you think those beautiful women had sex with him because he’s hot? No. They did it because he was powerful.”

Werksman also noted that each of the women came forward only after reports about Weinstein's behavior helped fuel the #MeToo movement of women speaking out about sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood and beyond.

Thompson said none of the accusers spoke publicly at the time because they worried Weinstein "could crush their careers." He showed the jury movie posters of "Pulp Fiction," "Shakespeare in Love" and other Weinstein productions.

"At this time, this was the most powerful person in the industry," Thompson quoted one of the women as saying.

Another said: "He was king."

Weinstein, 70, was convicted of sexual misconduct in New York in February 2020. He was extradited from New York to a Los Angeles prison in July 2021.

In New York, Weinstein is appealing his conviction and 23-year prison sentence. He could face up to 140 years in prison if convicted on all of the charges in Los Angeles.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Sandra Maler & Shri Navaratnam)