Sometimes the lynch mob gets the guilty party, but that’s not the way to run a railroad. We have laws, after all, even if some of them are subject to change. But due process is permanent.
Let the jury consider the evidence and decide, the king said. “No, no! cried the Red Queen. “Sentence first. Verdict afterward!”
Everyone knows Harvey Weinstein is guilty of something — assault upon an innocent person, lascivious consideration of the female of the species, terminal vulgarity, advanced vice, mopery and maybe even rape. All of the above, and more. There will be no contributions to the Harvey Weinstein Defense Fund here, not even in Confederate currency.
But some of his most sanctimonious critics are with the Red Queen, eager to chop off the most convenient head. It doesn’t have to be Harvey Weinstein’s head. Why not the head of Cy Vance Jr., the district attorney in Manhattan? Why hasn’t he already measured Mr. Weinstein for the horizontal stripes?
Mobs want blood, and the blood of Mr. Vance will have to do. He had his chance to bring down Harvey two years ago, on the testimony of an Italian model who said she met Harvey at a party in Manhattan and accepted his invitation to meet at his office the next day to discuss her career. During her job conference she said he fondled her breasts — “to see whether they were real” — and put his hand under her skirt. When she complained to the cops, they set her up with a wire and she recorded another meeting the next day. The wire recorded a sordid and vulgar conversation, in which he offered a rote apology for touching her.
Mr. Vance listened to the recorded conversation and decided not that Harvey was innocent, but that the law could not prove he was guilty. The district attorney has come under what one media voice calls “withering criticism” for it.
“Our best lawyers looked at the case,” Mr. Vance told reporters this week, looking only slightly withered. “I, like they, was very disturbed by the contents of the tape. It’s obviously sickening. But at the end of the day we operate in a courtroom of the law, not the court of public opinion, and our sex crime prosecutors made a determination that this was not going to be a provable case.”
This was a judgment call, maybe right and maybe wrong, but it was the kind of judgment he was elected to make. To the dismay of many in Manhattan, Mr. Vance is unopposed for re-election next month, so he may be out of the reach of wrath.
Or maybe not. Maybe a write-in candidate could appease the wrath. Write-in candidacies rarely work, but sometimes they do. The favorite son of the angry and the frustrated is one Preet Bharara, who was the U.S. attorney for Manhattan and several of the suburban counties in the Obama administration before he was routinely dismissed by President Trump to make way for a new administration, along with similar U.S. attorneys across the United States, and this accords him particular cachet.
But he doesn’t live in Manhattan, which the state district attorney for Manhattan must. This is a quibble that many of the wrathful in Gotham no doubt regard as a technicality, but lawyers, particularly prosecutors, are big on technicalities. So Mr. Bharara, with an enviable record of putting away crooked politicians and corrupt masters of the Wall Street universe, is out, as in kaput.
The Washington Post’s Philip Bump suggests Eliot Spitzer, the former governor, as the man for the job. He’s a former assistant district attorney with vast experience in prosecuting evildoers and he’s a former state attorney general as well as a former governor. He already lives on the Upper East Side. What’s not to like?
There is one tiny fly in this ointment to soothe the public rage for justice. This is the same former governor caught in a prostitution scandal and who beat the rap for violating the Mann Act, which, in the formal language of the law, makes it a no-no to take a woman across a state line for an immoral purpose. On reflection, he might not be quite what the occasion demands for punishing a judgment call, even on the Upper East Side.
Cy Vance correctly notes that a criminal court is bound by the law, which sets out in picky detail how a defendant must be accorded his rights. The court of public opinion, however, has no such constraints. The court of public opinion, with no rules and no lawyers, can render a verdict that would suit the Red Queen, and there’s no right of appeal. This is Harvey Weinstein’s fate, and it’s a cruel one.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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