New York State Attorney General Letitia James signed off on a Harvey Weinstein settlement deal that included terms she supposedly promised victims’ attorney wouldn’t be included.
The settlement deal that James approved was negotiated by lawyer Elizabeth Fegan, acting on behalf of multiple Weinstein accusers and is now off the table after it was rejected by Manhattan Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein on July 14.
In his decision, Hellerstein called the deal ‘obnoxious’ and said that Fegan ‘was wasting (her) time.’
‘Harvey Weinstein joins those who ask me to approve it, but makes no contribution to the settlement. Indeed, he benefits from it, financially as well as by obtaining a release of claims,’ Hellerstein wrote in a written ruling released Friday, according to the New York Daily News.
Harvey Weinstein accusers and their lawyers are criticizing New York State Attorney General for signing off on a proposed settlement deal including terms she promised she wouldn’t OK
The proposal included establishing a $19million compensation fund that insurers would be responsible for paying out, not Weinstein (pictured February 2020) himself
Hellerstein added that he ‘observed that favoring these groups at the expense of the people suffering sexual abuse by Harvey Weinstein was “obnoxious.” I continue to hold to that view.’
The $19million proposed settlement deal, which Hellerstein rejected, would leave his accusers to claim between $7,500 to $750,000 each from the compensation fund, which would be paid entirely by insurers – Weinstein would not be responsible for ponying up the cash.
An additional $5.4million was aimed at being split up among 14 women, in the US, Canada and the UK, who had sued Weinstein.
Hellerstein told the plaintiff’s lead attorney Elizabeth Fagan that the deal would ‘create inequality’ among those involved, because not every woman was subjected to the same extent of sexual abuse, Deadline reported.
On July 13, six of Weinstein’s accusers argued that the proposed deal would ultimately amount to $11.2million after legal costs, with typical awards of just $10,000 to $20,000 for victims.
While rejecting the deal in mid July, Hellerstein called the $15million defense fund the deal also set aside for Weinstein and his team ‘unconscionable.’
The proposal was drafted by Elizabeth Fegan (left), on behalf of Weinstein accusers. Lawyer Thomas Giuffra (right), who represents accuser Alexandra Canosa, said James promised ‘she would never sign off on an agreement that gave victims’ money to’ the Weinsteins
Weinstein accuser Kaja Sokola (left in 2010) said she felt ‘betrayed’ by James’ ‘acceptance of the settlement.’ Accuser Alexandra Canosa (right) is pictured in 2010.
Lawyer Thomas Giuffra, who represents producer Alexandra Canosa, told the newspaper that James ‘promised us she would never sign off on an agreement that gave victims’ money to Harvey Weinstein or Bob Weinstein. Promised us that – she would never agree to that.’
Giuffra added that James ‘botched this thing. The Attorney General’s office has been the worst thing that happened to this case.’
‘I felt betrayed by the Attorney General’s acceptance of the settlement, which was so unfair for the victims and did not hold Weinstein responsible for his crimes on any level,’ Kaja Sokola told the newspaper.
Sokola claimed that Weinstein assaulted her in 2002, when she was 16 years old.
According to another victim’s lawyer who spoke with the newspaper on background, James had promised him in July 2019 that she wouldn’t okay a deal that stopped Weinstein accusers who opted out of the settlement from chasing money from insurance companies, Bob Weinstein or The Weinstein Company‘s board of directors.
However, the release for insurers and directors was ultimately included in the proposed settlement when it was made last month.
The release would have severely limited the amount of money that Weinstein’s accusers could recover later.
In addition, the unnamed lawyer said, it would have also limited the victims’ ability to decide how they pursued their cases.
Dominique Huett, who claims Weinstein sexually assaulted her in 2010, said that she was ‘really upset’ that James ‘could see this slanted deal as beneficial to survivors when it was structured to get the perpetrators out of any liability. It also seemed unlawful to me that the deal could block victims from individually litigating their case.’
A spokesperson for James told the New York Daily News that ‘Attorney General James has been, and will always be a fighter for survivors of sexual assault and harassment.
‘Without a comprehensive settlement in this case, dozens of Weinstein survivors will be left with nothing, and will lose their opportunity to find justice, given the statute of limitations has run out on a lot of their cases.
‘These brave women have been through so much, and the Attorney General believes that they deserve to receive what they’ve long been owed,’ the spokesperson said.
Giuffre said that James’ predecessor, Eric Schneiderman, had scuttled a 2018 deal that would’ve allowed for the sale of The Weinstein Company, creating a victims’ compensation fund that could be as high as $90million.
Class action watchdogs said that James’ office wasn’t critical enough of the terms of the proposed settlement.
Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute’s Ted Frank told the New York Daily News that ‘The Attorney General’s office wasn’t appropriately skeptical’ and that rather than agreeing to the settlement terms, ‘They could have identified the same things Judge Hellerstein identified and said this isn’t the way a class action settlement is supposed to work.’
Weinstein attorney Imran Ansari said that ‘Many parties wanted this settlement to succeed, importantly, it was not just the Weinstein defendants, but the plaintiffs themselves, who likely recognized that this was the route to a realistic recovery.’
Ansari noted that Weinstein’s ‘current and future financial state is far from healthy, not only has his personal liberty been taken from him, but his financial liberty as well.’
The disgraced Hollywood mogul is in the midst of serving a 23-year sentence after having been found guilty of sexually assaulting his former production assistant Miriam Haley and raping actress Jessica Mann.