Why has Harvey Weinstein picked Donna Rotunno to defend him in court?

  • Video report by ITV News correspondent Rebecca Barry

We’d been queuing in the cold for hours outside 100 Centre Street in Lower Manhattan.

Hundreds of journalists had travelled from all over the world to try to get a seat in court.

I was one of the lucky ones.

That’s when I had my first encounter with Donna Rotunno - as she swept past in her stilettos, bright fuchsia pink shirt and perfectly blow-dried hair.

I almost didn’t notice Harvey Weinstein in a black suit, quietly shuffling in on his zimmer frame.

I hate to fall into a cliché of commenting on a woman’s appearance, but in this high-profile courtroom drama, the optics do matter.

Her statement look, in such stark contrast to the sober grey suits of the prosecution, just couldn’t be accidental.

And, of course, Harvey Weinstein knows exactly how to stage-manage.

Having been through a series of legal teams, Mr Weinstein chose this woman to protect him from the threat of being sent to prison for the rest of his life.


Well, firstly, she’s a woman.

Perhaps it’s an advantage to have a female defending you, when so many women have accused you of being a rapist.

Plus, she’s got a strong history of defending men accused of sexual abuse.

None as big as Harvey Weinstein though.

So, what I really want to know is why would Donna Rotunno want to defend a man widely accused of being a predatory sex offender?

My colleague in New York, Kathryn Milofsky, had been working hard for months to secure an interview.

Finally, on the eve of the first day of the trial, Donna Rotunno agreed to give ITV News her first interview with a British broadcaster.

Rebecca Barry sat down with Harvey Weinstein's lawyer Donna Rotunno. Credit: ITV News

We rushed to the flashy marble-lined offices on 5th Avenue.

Me, producer Sophie Alexander, local producer Kathryn Milofsky and camera crews Dan Martland and Mark Davey, with our hoards of camera equipment, tripods, and lights - were all about to pile into the lift.

The doors opened... and there stood Harvey Weinstein!

He froze.

We froze.

He stared, motionless, stooped over, gripping his zimmer frame.

Before I could speak, the doors closed and he disappeared.

He’d looked haunted.

And no wonder, moments later we discovered he’d just found out he was now also facing rape charges in Los Angeles.

Our interview with Donna Rotunno was promptly cancelled as the legal team worked furiously on this new development.

  • 'Celebrity status' comes with making claim against Weinstein, his lawyer says

We were all disappointed, but had to rush back to update my report for News at Ten to include the fresh charges.

But two days later, thanks to Kathryn Milofsky’s contacts with Harvey’s team we were told we could return for the interview - cue a desperate dash across Manhattan after our News at Ten live report.

When I shook hands with Donna Rotunno she kicked off her Salvatore Ferragamo high-heels so that she no longer towered over me.

She was warm, friendly, intelligent and clearly impressively hardworking.

As we chatted she revealed she survives on five hours sleep a night and gets up every day at around 5am to exercise, before starting work.

The Harvey Weinstein case has taken over her life.

She shows me photos of the family she’s left behind in Chicago, because she’s moved to New York for the duration of the trial.

She says her loved ones fear for her safety because of the abuse she’s received for defending the most high-profile antagonst of the global #MeToo movement.

I’m now even more intrigued, so I ask her why are you defending Harvey Weinstein?

She tells me it’s because he has the right to a “fair trial” and to be “presumed innocent”.

She says she believes he’s been made a “scapegoat” and that the #MeToo movement has gone “too far”.

“I don’t believe Harvey is a rapist” she tells me emphatically, but she says this is also about defending his “rights”.

ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry in New York. Credit: ITV News

She says “there’s almost a celebrity status” that comes with making a claim against Harvey Weinstein and blames a “band of sisterhood” for clouding “the true events and facts”.

When I challenged her over whether she really believed a woman would accuse a man of rape just because they were fame-hungry, she said “women lie” and that her cross-examination would expose that.

She said she thought it would be “astronomically difficult” for the former Hollywood mogul in prison, but insisted she was determined to secure his freedom and, astonishingly, said she believed he could come back even “stronger” and “bigger” than before.

Off camera Donna Rotunno quipped that her obituary will probably read: “Harvey Weinstein’s Lawyer”.

It’s a legacy she’s happy with.

But we’ll have to wait to find out whether or not she’s remembered as the lawyer who saved Harvey Weinstein from jail.