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Harvey Weinstein Can’t Buy His Way out of Accountability, Says Judge

Harvey Weinstein arrives at New York City criminal court, hunched over a walker.

Convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein is not done with legal troubles. Today U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein killed a proposed $19 million settlement between Weinstein and multiple accusers for being too easy on Weinstein and his business partners. This was a move that many accusers wanted, but it’s also complicated.

This ruling is on a case brought in 2018 by several women who allege Weinstein sexually assaulted them: Plaintiffs Louisette Geiss, Sarah Ann Thomas, Melissa Thompson, Melissa Sagemiller, Nannette May, Katherine Kendall, Caitlin Dulany, Larissa Gomes and a Jill Doe. This suit was a big deal and was filed not just against Weinstein but against his companies and co-producers. That included his brother Bob Weinstein, Miramax, the Weinstein Company, and Walt Disney, and alleged they were complicit in a culture that allowed Harvey’s serial abuse.

After years of litigation and legal wrangling, those parties worked out a proposed settlement last June, which aimed to create a fund near $19 million for all of Harvey Weinstein’s victims, and that’s where things get very complicated. The plaintiffs in this case proposed it as a class action, alleging that they could and should represent all of Weinstein’s victims, but many other women who are pursuing individual claims against Weinstein didn’t want that.

The settlement submitted in June to the judge wanted to create a victim’s fund and treat this as a class action and the attorneys for plaintiffs declared: “This settlement is the culmination of several years of hard work by survivors who not only initiated the #MeToo movement around Weinstein, but also used their platforms to seek justice for all of those who were afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation in Hollywood …the plaintiffs’ use of the class action to negotiate a confidential process where all survivors can apply for meaningful relief was truly selfless and a victory for all women in Hollywood.”

This deal was even approved by the New York Attorney General. But on the other side of things, many women who were seeking their own justice against Weinstein objected and their attorneys called it “a complete sellout of the Weinstein survivors.” Today, the judge, who had to approve the settlement, agreed with them and refused to approve the settlement.

“The idea that Harvey Weinstein can get a defense fund ahead of the claimants is obnoxious,” Judge Hallerstein declared. “The idea you can regulate the claims of people not in the settlement — I can’t subscribe to that.” Hallerstein ruled that this case can’t proceed as a class action and that Weinstein and his companies will need to face and litigate with all his victims individually.

The proposed settlement wasn’t just about the victim’s fund, and, as it was worked out with insurance companies and more, it would have resulted in a $15 million payout back to the Weinstein side of things for legal fees, which Judge Hallerstein agreed was “unconscionable.”

The attorneys for the women that objected to the settlement issued the following statement: “We have been saying for over a year and a half that the settlement terms and conditions were unfair and should never be imposed on sexual assault survivors.  We were surprised that class counsel and the New York Attorney General did not recognize this fact but are pleased that Judge Hellerstein swiftly rejected the one-sided proposal. On behalf of our clients, we look forward to pursuing justice against Harvey Weinstein and his many enablers.”

While the initial announcement of the settlement seems like a win, it was ultimately, as many critics and the objectors here called it, a “hoax” that would have allowed Weinstein and his corporate enablers to avoid further litigation, save on damages, and make back the cost of their legal fees. But no, a man who has assaulted so many women that a class action was even considered should not get off that easily. This decision is a win for victims.

(via Deadline, image: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.