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Mel Gibson can testify at Harvey Weinstein trial, judge says
LOS ANGELES — Mel Gibson can testify about what he learned from one of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, a judge ruled Friday in the rape and sexual assault case against the former movie mogul.
The 66-year-old actor and director was one of many witnesses, and by far the most famous, whose identity was revealed in Los Angeles Superior Court. The judge and attorneys had taken a break from jury selection to make suggestions about what evidence would be allowed at trial and who could testify. The list of witnesses in the case is sealed.
Judge Lisa B. Lench ruled that Gibson could testify in support of his masseuse and friend, who will be known as Jane Doe #3 at trial. Weinstein is accused of sexual assault by restraining the woman, one of 11 counts of rape and sexual assault in the 70-year-old’s trial.
Prosecutors said that after receiving a massage from the woman at a Beverly Hills, California hotel in May 2010, a naked Weinstein followed her into the bathroom and masturbated. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty and denied any non-consensual sexual activity.
Weinstein’s lawyers objected to allowing Gibson to testify, saying that what he learned from the woman while receiving a massage from her did not constitute a “new complaint” by the woman under the law that Gibson would have taken the stand. A “new complaint” under California law allows the introduction of evidence of a sexual assault or other crime if the victim reported it to someone else voluntarily and relatively quickly after it occurred.
Prosecutors said that when Gibson casually brought up Weinstein’s name, the woman had a traumatic response and Gibson learned from her that she had been sexually assaulted. Gibson doesn’t remember the moment of the exchange, but the prosecution will use another witness, Alison Weiner, who remembers talking to both Gibson and the woman in 2015.
Judge Lench said Gibson’s testimony will depend on how the accuser describes the conversation with him when she takes the stand, and she may choose to rule against that at that point.
Weinstein’s attorney, Mark Werksman, argued at the time that if Gibson did take the stand, the defense should be allowed to question him about widely reported anti-Semitic remarks Gibson made during a 2006 arrest, and about racist remarks made to a girlfriend. which were recorded and published in 2010.
Lench said a broader discussion of Gibson’s racism was not relevant to the trial, but it would allow questions to be raised about whether he had personal biases and animosity toward Weinstein.
Werksman argued that Gibson was biased both because Weinstein was Jewish and because Weinstein had published a book criticizing the portrayal of Jews in the 2004 Gibson-directed film The Passion of the Christ.
“Any evidence of Mr. Gibson’s racism or anti-Semitism would prejudice my client who challenged it,” Werksman said.
The lawyer briefly and mistakenly said he thought the film had won the Oscar for best picture, but Weinstein, whose films once dominated the Oscars, shook his head as he sat at the defense table.
“I’m sorry, my client would know better than I do,” Werksman said. “But it was an award-winning film.”
The defense also argued that Gibson was trying to whitewash her image by focusing on Weinstein’s wrongdoing and positioning herself as a champion of the #MeToo movement.
Prosecutors say Gibson made no such offers to himself and that during the conversation with his masseuse he said he was discussing a business deal with Weinstein, indicating no such bias.
Deputy District Attorney Marlene Martinez called Gibson’s past comments “disgusting” but said they were irrelevant to the narrow targets he will be called on to face.
Gibson’s testimony raises the prospect of two of Hollywood’s once most powerful men, who have suffered public falls, facing each other in court.
An email seeking comment from a Gibson representative was not immediately returned.
In one of several similar rulings Friday, Lench also ruled 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 raping in 2004 or 2005. .
The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they were sexually assaulted.
Weinstein is already serving a 23-year sentence for a 2020 rape and sexual assault conviction in New York. The state Supreme Court agreed to hear his appeal in that case.
He was subsequently taken to Los Angeles for a trial that began Monday, five years after women’s stories about him gave a huge boost to the #MeToo movement.
Friday’s arguments came a day after the premiere of the movie “She Said,” which tells the story of the work of the two New York Times reporters whose stories brought down Weinstein.
Weinstein’s lawyers had previously asked for a delay in the trial in Los Angeles because publicity about the film could taint jurors, but the judge rejected their request.
The trial is expected to last eight weeks. The judge and attorneys will return to the jury selection process Monday morning, and opening statements are expected to begin Oct. 24.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter: twitter.com/andyjamesdalton