New York City

Why did Cy Vance give Weinstein special treatment?

When Harvey Weinstein was arrested on sexual assault charges, he got to turn himself in, his bail was set at a pre-negotiated amount he could easily afford, and he wasn’t held in jail overnight. So why did Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance give him special treatment?

Harvey Weinstein signs papers with his attorney Benjamin Brafman [left] during his arraignment in Manhattan criminal court.

Harvey Weinstein signs papers with his attorney Benjamin Brafman [left] during his arraignment in Manhattan criminal court. JEFFERSON SIEGEL/POOL/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Harvey Weinstein is no stranger to slinking past a phalanx of photographers, but this wasn’t a red carpet premiere.

The disgraced former film mogul arrived at the NYPD’s 1st Precinct, three blocks from his now-emptied Miramax headquarters, at 7 a.m. on May 25 to turn himself in on charges that he raped a woman in 2013 and committed a criminal sex act against another woman in 2004.

A judge officially set Weinstein’s bail at a pre-negotiated $1 million. Weinstein had come prepared: While other New Yorkers sometimes go to jail merely because they do not have access to an ATM in the courthouse, Weinstein had a cashier’s check at the ready. By 9:30 a.m. he was free to leave.

Weinstein wasn’t arrested unexpectedly, held in jail overnight to wait for his arraignment, or required to post a financially burdensome bail for someone of his wealth.

That left many observers wondering: Is this normal? Do accused serial rapists normally get to negotiate their surrender and bail in advance?

No. Weinstein’s treatment is an example of how New York’s wealthiest residents have access to a different justice system than less affluent accused criminals, who Vance readily throws in the slammer, holds up for bail worth many times more to them than a mere million dollars is worth to Weinstein and sends them to Rikers Island to await trial for far less serious charges.

But justice is supposed to be blind, so how and why does a rich person such as Weinstein get these privileges?

Here’s how it works: Upon learning the charges, Weinstein’s high-priced renowned criminal defense attorney Benjamin Brafman and Manhattan prosecutors discussed the circumstances of the mogul’s surrender and agreed to a bail amounting to barely 0.4 percent of Weinstein’s estimated $240 million to $300 million net worth.

“What happened in criminal court was a scripted practice,” said Manhattan Assemblyman Dan Quart. “There were conversations that took place ahead of time and that is not what happens for average poor people, African Americans and Latinos who appear in criminal court each day.”

Cops didn’t storm down Weinstein’s door at 4 a.m., drag him sleepless into the station, and let him sit in a cell with other suspects for a day while they process his paperwork.

“He was one of the first people brought to the judge before arraignment and he was right out the door. It delayed my clients who were sitting around for the rest of the day,” said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the criminal defense practice at Legal Aid which represents low-income defendants.

Good luck getting out as quickly if your bank account is smaller than a studio executive’s: The average time a defendant is held between arrest and arraignment is about 18 hours, according to Luongo, whose public defense firm represented 219,045 clients citywide in the 2017 fiscal year. “It’s nowhere close to three hours,” Luongo added. “They sometimes have no access to talking to an attorney or they can’t reach a family member. That entire process is what is so fundamentally different from our clients’.”

Police typically take the suspect to the precinct, run their fingerprints through the system, and complete paperwork for the arrest while the defendant waits in a cell. Then the cops transfer the suspect to Manhattan Central Booking on 100 Centre St. before moving him or her to a small holding pen behind the courtroom until the arraignment begins. This is not a pleasant way to while away the hours, according to the thousands of New Yorkers who have spent the night in Central Booking for crimes as minor as writing graffiti and smoking pot on the street.

The reason Weinstein and other rich defendants may not be subjected to this process is that private defense attorneys often talk with prosecutors investigating a case to determine how to schedule an arrest and minimize the amount of time their client is held. Most non-rich suspects do not already have defense lawyer on hand to perform that task before they actually have been arrested.

Negotiating bail before a judge hears the case is incredibly uncommon, as is getting bail so much lower than a defendant’s net worth. Those living paycheck to paycheck face bails upwards of $100,000 to $250,000 for sexual assault, Legal Aid attorneys say. “We have to fight to get our client out and a judge makes a decision on their bail in only a few seconds,” Luongo said. “Bail is supposed to be set at an amount that would make you come back. Weinstein’s bail was completely affordable for him.”

If a judge sets bail and the defendant is unable to pay, he or she can be sent to a corrections facility based on age, gender and severity of the charges.

Changing state laws could make the process fairer for poorer defendants. Democratic state lawmakers are looking to speed up the discovery process and eliminate cash bail for those charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. “We can return our system to what it should be where bail only is used in circumstances whether they are a risk of flight and not as a means of punishment,” Quart said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted the proposals but did not include them in the state budget in April. Bail reform is now one of many outstanding bills that await a vote before the end of the legislative session in June.

But district attorneys set many policies that don’t need a legal fix. For instance, prosecutors could simply choose to share state evidence, arrange arrest dates and propose bail amounts for clients of public defenders ahead of time.

Despite much evidence, including an audio recording, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance decided not to pursue sexual abuse charges against Weinstein in 2015. That decision has been roundly criticized by Time’s Up activists. His office’s handling of the case is the subject of a state attorney general probe and a bitter political fight with the governor’s office.

Of course, just because one has a highly paid attorney who attempts to pre-negotiate special treatment such as Weinstein’s doesn’t mean the district attorney has to provide it. No one interviewed for this story could explain why prosecutors decided to hurry Weinstein through the system instead of making him wait to be arraigned and have his bail set like a typical defendant.  

Some legal and political insiders speculated on background that it may have to do with campaign donations. Brafman and his firm Brafman and Associates has given about $4,600 to Vance’s campaign in recent years, although that is considerably smaller than other contributions from defense attorneys. (Brafman has represented other high-profile men accused of rape whom Vance did not prosecute, including former International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2011.)

A Vance spokesman wouldn’t comment on criminal justice reform measures or why Weinstein received special treatment. In January, Vance promised he would not accept contributions from attorneys with pending cases after stories noted last fall he received $55,000 from another Weinstein attorney, David Boies, and $32,000 from Trump family attorney Marc Kasowitz after dropping a criminal investigation into fraud investigations involving Trump’s eldest children in 2012. Vance has returned some of the donations.

Attorneys who cannot afford to drop tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions want the justice system to be fair to everyone. “This is not to say Harvey should be treated like our clients, the opposite is true,” said Luongo. “We should have the same presumptions, the same benefits, same due process, and the same transparency.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.