When Donna Rotunno agreed to represent former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as lead defense attorney in his New York rape trial, she believed that her gender could prove to be an asset in the courtroom.
Rotunno took the case in June 2019, two years after dozens of allegations against Weinstein fueled the #MeToo movement, in which hundreds of women accused powerful men in business and politics of sexual harassment or assault.
Millions of people used the hashtag “#MeToo” to share their stories on social media and Hollywood celebrities began the “Times Up” campaign to fight sexual misconduct in the workplace.
“In a case where multiple women will be taking the stand to testify, it’s a different dynamic when you have a female involved in the defense,” Rotunno told Reuters.
Legal experts and Rotunno herself said her gender might prompt jurors to view her more favorably when she cross-examines Weinstein’s accusers.
“She may be able to question the witness in a way that comes across as more empathetic, while a male lawyer may come across as cold,” says defense lawyer Steven Greenberg, who said he has known Rotunno for roughly two decades.
Weinstein, 67, has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting two women in New York and faces a two-month jury trial. With jury selection underway in Manhattan this week, Rotunno has appeared each day at Weinstein’s side, unflinching in the face of flashing cameras.
Rotunno said she can be tougher in cross-examination than a male attorney without coming across as a “bully,” and that factor could be an advantage.
She said, however, her tactic is not to intimidate, and her gender is just one strength she brings to the defense.
“I don’t raise my voice,” she said. “I’m not there to embarrass anyone, I’m not there to shame anyone.”