Mel Gibson May Testify at Harvey Weinstein Trial, Judge Says
LOS ANGELES — Mel Gibson can testify to what he learned from one of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, a judge ruled Friday in the former movie mogul’s rape and sexual assault trial.
The 66-year-old actor and director was one of many, and by far the most well-known, witnesses whose identity was revealed in Los Angeles Superior Court. The judge and attorneys had paused jury selection for motions about what evidence will be allowed at trial and who can testify. The list of witnesses for the trial is sealed.
Judge Lisa B. Lench ruled that Gibson could testify in support of her masseuse and friend, who will be known as Jane Doe #3 at trial. Weinstein is charged with forcible sexual assault of the woman, one of 11 counts of rape and sexual assault in the trial against the 70-year-old.
Prosecutors said after receiving a massage from the woman at a California hotel in Beverly Hills in May 2010, a naked Weinstein followed her into the bathroom and masturbated. Weinstein pleaded not guilty and denied any non-consensual sexual activity.
Weinstein’s lawyers objected to Gibson testifying, saying what he learned from the woman while having a massage did not constitute a “new complaint” by the woman under the law by which Gibson would take a stand. ‘New complaint’ under California law allows evidence of sexual assault or other crime to be introduced if victim reported it to someone else voluntarily and relatively soon after it happened product.
Prosecutors said when Gibson casually brought up Weinstein’s name, the woman had a traumatic reaction and Gibson understood from her that she had been sexually assaulted. Gibson did not recall the timing of the exchange, but the prosecution will use another witness, Allison Weiner, who recalls speaking to both Gibson and the woman in 2015.
Judge Lench said Gibson’s testimony will depend on how the accuser describes the exchange with him when she takes the stand and she may choose to speak out against it at that time.
Weinstein’s attorney, Mark Werksman, then argued that if Gibson takes the stand, the defense should be allowed to cross-examine him on the widely publicized anti-Semitic remarks Gibson made during a 2006 arrest, and on the racist statements to a girlfriend that were recorded and made public in 2010.
Lench said a broader discussion of Gibson’s racism was irrelevant to the trial, but it would raise questions about whether he had personal bias and animosity toward Weinstein.
Werksman argued that Gibson had such a bias both because Weinstein is Jewish and because Weinstein published a book that criticized the portrayal of Jews in Gibson’s 2004 film, “The Passion of the Christ.”
“Any evidence of Mr. Gibson’s racism or anti-Semitism would result in bias against my client, who challenged him,” Werksman said.
The attorney briefly, and erroneously, said he thought the film won the Best Picture Oscar, but Weinstein, whose films once topped the Oscars, shook his head as he sat at the defense board.
“Sorry, my client would know better than me,” Werksman said. “But it was an award-winning film.”
The defense also argued that Gibson was trying to whitewash his image by focusing on Weinstein’s wrongdoings and asserting himself as a champion of the #MeToo movement.
The prosecution argued that Gibson made no such suggestion about him and that at the time of the conversation with his masseuse he said he was considering a business deal with Weinstein, showing that there was no such bias.
Assistant District Attorney Marlene Martinez called Gibson’s past comments “despicable” but said they had no relevance to the narrow purposes for which he would be called to the stand.
Gibson’s testimony raises the prospect of two of Hollywood’s once most powerful men, who suffered public falls, facing each other in court.
An email seeking comment from a Gibson representative was not immediately returned.
On Friday, in one of several similar rulings, Lench also found that “Melrose Place” actress Daphne Zuniga could testify in a similar capacity for a woman known at trial as Jane Doe #4, whom Weinstein is accused of having raped her in 2004 or 2005.
The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they have been sexually abused.
Weinstein is already serving a 23-year sentence for a 2020 conviction for rape and sexual assault in New York. The state’s highest court has agreed to hear his appeal in the case.
He was then brought to Los Angeles for a trial which began on Monday, five years after women’s stories about him gave massive momentum to the #MeToo movement.
Friday’s arguments came a day after the premiere of the film “She Said,” which tells the story of the work of the two New York Times reporters whose stories brought Weinstein down.
Weinstein’s attorneys previously sought to have the Los Angeles trial delayed because the film’s publicity could taint the jury, but the judge denied their motion.
The trial is expected to last eight weeks. The judge and attorneys will return to the jury selection process on Monday morning and opening statements are scheduled to begin Oct. 24.