Harvey Weinstein pleads not guilty to rape as lawyer vows vigorous fight

Harvey Weinstein pleads not guilty to rape and criminal sex act charges in New York.

Movie mogul's lawyer calls case against Weinstein 'eminently defensible'

Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to rape and criminal sex act charges. The hearing in Manhattan came after a grand jury indicted the former movie mogul last week on charges involving two women. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty to rape and criminal sex act charges on Tuesday before a judge in New York, and his lawyer vowed afterward to try to beat the case even before it goes to trial.

Weinstein limped from an SUV and was escorted past a big crowd of journalists before spending a few minutes answering a series of yes and no questions from the judge asking if he understood his rights. A pair of court officers stood directly behind him throughout the brief hearing.

The former movie mogul didn't stop to speak with journalists or respond to shouted questions and was back in his waiting SUV in just 40 minutes. His attorney, Ben Brafman, told reporters the case was "eminently defensible" based on what they have learned about the evidence.

"I think today is the first day of this process. We begin our fight now," he said, adding his defence would include trying to force prosecutors to drop the case.

"If we are successful, there may not be a trial."

A grand jury indicted Weinstein last week on charges involving two women.

One alleged victim, who has not been identified publicly, told investigators that Weinstein cornered her in a hotel room and raped her. The other accuser, former actress Lucia Evans, has gone public with her account of Weinstein forcing her to perform oral sex at his office in 2004.

The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assaults unless they come forward publicly.

The 66-year-old Weinstein has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex. Brafman has challenged the credibility of his alleged victims. The lawyer has said the unidentified woman who accused Weinstein of rape had a decade-long, consensual sexual relationship that continued after the alleged 2013 attack.

"As terrible as the crime of rape is, it is equally reprehensible to be falsely accused," Brafman said.

The 66-year-old Weinstein, shown at his arraignment May 25, has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex. (Steven Hirsch-Pool/Getty Images)

Prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney's office reportedly met privately with a third woman on Monday after she and two other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Weinstein.

According to the suit, Melissa Thompson had a 2011 business meeting that ended with Weinstein holding her down and raping her in a Manhattan hotel room. Through her law firm, Thompson said she was comfortable with being named publicly.

In court, Brafman seized on the report about the meeting as further proof that his client was the victim of a series of unfair and damaging leaks by authorities. Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi told the judge that the information came from her office.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. has said it was predictable that Weinstein's camp would attack the integrity of the women and the legal system.

Vance, a Democrat, came under public pressure from women's groups to prosecute Weinstein after declining to do so in 2015, when an Italian model went to police to say Weinstein had groped her during a meeting.

Police set up a sting in which the woman recorded herself confronting Weinstein and him apologizing for his conduct. But Vance decided there was not enough evidence to bring charges.

Weinstein is out on $1 million US bail. A judge ordered the two sides back in court in late September.