Entertainment

Harvey Weinstein accused of misusing ankle monitor; $5M bail sought

Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was in court on Friday, when prosecutors accused him of intentionally misusing his ankle monitor. They seek to raise his bail from its current $1 million US, to $5 million US.

'None of these violations were accidental' says prosecutor

Harvey Weinstein, centre, leaves court following a bail hearing in New York on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. Prosecutors have demanded his bail be raised to $5 million US for mishandling his ankle monitor. (Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press)

Harvey Weinstein violated his bail conditions by mishandling his electronic ankle monitor, which left his whereabouts unrecorded for hours at a time, a New York prosecutor argued Friday.

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi made the claim at a pretrial hearing for Weinstein after he hobbled into court with what his lawyer later described as a back ailment. Illuzzi told a judge he had repeatedly violated his bail conditions by leaving at home a piece of the monitoring technology that keeps the ankle bracelet activated.

"None of these violations were accidental," Illuzzi said while arguing that Weinstein's bail should be raised from $1 million US to $5 million US while he awaits trial next month on rape and assault charges. 

Defence attorney Donna Rotunno denied it was anything deliberate, blaming "technical glitches" like dead batteries.

"It has nothing to do with any manipulation of the bracelet," Rotunno told reporters after leaving court. She acknowledged that on at least one occasion, Weinstein had forgotten part of the device when he left the house. "The minute he realized he forgot it, he made a phone call."

Asked about the health of her 67-year-old client, who was walking with a limp, his tie loosened and one shoe untied, the lawyer responded: "This is tough on anybody. ... He has some back issues that we're hoping to address this week."

A judge put off any decision about whether Weinstein should face stricter bail conditions over the alleged violations until next week.

The Oscar-winning producer was in court for one of many proceedings that courts across the state are scheduling to apprise defendants of reforms to New York's bail system that are set to take effect Jan. 1.

Weinstein, who walked to court with a limp, was aided by his lawyers due to a back issue. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

State lawmakers passed a law this year eliminating cash bail for most nonviolent crimes. For poorer defendants facing lesser charges, these appearances could mean release from jail come the new year — or refunds for those who have posted bail.

Those outcomes are unlikely to happen in a case in which Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to charges he raped a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and performed a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006. He has been free on the current $1 million US bail since his arrest last year and maintains that any sexual activity was consensual. 

Weinstein's deep pockets have given him plenty of freedom as he awaits trial on the charges, which could put him in jail for the rest of his life. The disgraced movie mogul has been spotted hobnobbing at New York City nightclubs and getting jeered at a recent actors showcase.

But poorer defendants who have been hauled into courthouses for lesser offences have ended up in jail if they can't afford a bail of even a few hundred dollars.

That financial and fairness divide was one New York lawmakers were aiming to solve with sweeping bail reforms.

Among the changes: The bail law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in April eliminates pretrial detention and money bail for the wide majority of misdemeanour and nonviolent felony cases. It also mandates that police issue court appearance tickets instead of arresting people for low-level offences.

The reforms were motivated in part by the case of Kalief Browder, who was denied bail after he was arrested at age 16 on a charge that he stole a bag, and then spent three years in custody before the case was dropped without a trial. He later killed himself. 

New laws could exempt Weinstein from fees

People charged with rape and other serious sexual offences can still be ordered to post bail or be put into pretrial detention come the new year.

Part of the new law bars the court system from requiring defendants to pay fees to maintain electronic monitoring systems. That could mean that Weinstein, who has been paying his own monitoring costs, will have to stop doing so.

The rollout of the bail law has varied across the state, with some areas having robust co-ordination while others are doing little to nothing at all, said Insha Rahman, director of strategy and new initiatives at the Vera Institute of Justice.

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Kevin Stadelmaier, chief attorney of the criminal defence unit at the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, said his defence lawyers have been preparing for months and are seeking to free people charged with low-level offences before the law takes effect. 

"We're really going to see the fruits of our labour come Jan. 1," he said.

David Hoovler, district attorney in Orange County, criticized the months-long rollout, saying there should have been more time given to prepare for such sweeping changes.

"There's very little guidance by anyone," he said.