LOS ANGELES – Mel Gibson can testify about what he learned from one of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, a judge ruled on Friday in the rape and sexual assault trial of the former film mogul.
The 66-year-old actor and director was one of many witnesses, and by far the best known, whose identities were revealed in the Los Angeles Superior Court. The judge and lawyers had taken a break from jury selection for motions on what evidence will be allowed at trial and who can testify. The list of witnesses for the trial is sealed.
Judge Lisa B. Lench ruled that Gibson can testify in support of her masseuse and friend, who will be known as Jane Doe # 3 at the trial. Weinstein is accused of committing sexual assault against the woman, one of 11 counts of rape and sexual assault in the trial against the 70-year-old.
Prosecutors said that after receiving a massage from the woman at a California hotel in Beverly Hills in May 2010, a naked Weinstein followed her to the bathroom and masturbated. Weinstein pleaded not guilty and denied any non-consensual sexual activity.
Weinstein’s attorneys opposed 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 Gibson allegedly took a stand with. A “new report” under California law allows for the introduction of evidence of sexual assault or other crime if the victim reported it to someone else voluntarily and with relative timeliness after it happened.
Prosecutors said that when Gibson accidentally mentioned Weinstein’s name, the woman had a traumatic response and Gibson learned from her that she had been sexually assaulted. Gibson did not recall the timing of the exchange, but the prosecution will use another witness, Allison Weiner, whom she recalls speaking to both Gibson and the woman in 2015.
Judge Lench said Gibson’s testimony will depend on how the prosecutor describes the exchange with him when he takes a stand, and at that moment he may choose to rule against it.
Weinstein’s attorney Mark Werksman then said that if Gibson takes a stand, the defense should be allowed to question him about the widely publicized anti-Semitic remarks Gibson made during an arrest in 2006 and racist statements to a girl that were taped and publicized. in 2010.
Lench said a broader discussion of Gibson’s racism was not relevant to the trial, but would allow one to wonder if he had personal bias and hostility towards Weinstein.
Werksman argued that Gibson had such a bias both because Weinstein is Jewish and because Weinstein published a book that criticized the portrayal of Jews in Gibson’s 2004 film, “The Passion of the Christ.”
“Any evidence of Mr. Gibson’s racism or anti-Semitism would give rise to a prejudice against my client, who challenged him,” Werksman said.
The lawyer briefly, and mistakenly, said he thought the film had won an Oscar for Best Picture, but Weinstein, whose films once dominated the Oscars, shook his head as he sat down at the defense table.
“Sorry, my client would know better than me,” Werksman said. “But it was an award-winning film.”
The defense also said Gibson was trying to whiten his image by focusing on Weinstein’s misdeeds and establishing himself as a champion of the #MeToo movement.
The prosecution argued that Gibson had not made such suggestions about himself and that at the time of the conversation with his masseuse he said he was discussing entering into a business deal with Weinstein, showing that there was no such bias.
Deputy District Attorney Marlene Martinez called Gibson’s past comments “despicable,” but said they had no relevance to the limited purposes for which he would be called to testify.
Gibson’s testimony raises the prospect that two of Hollywood’s once most powerful men who have suffered public falls will face off in court.
An email asking for a comment from a Gibson representative was not immediately returned.
In one of several similar rulings on Friday, Lench also found that “Melrose Place” actor Daphne Zuniga could testify in a similar capacity for a woman known at trial as Jane Doe No. 4, which Weinstein is accused of raping in 2004 or 2005.
The Associated Press typically does not name people who claim to have been sexually abused.
Weinstein is already serving a 23-year sentence for a 2020 sentence for rape and sexual assault in New York. The state’s highest court agreed to hear his appeal in that case.
He was later taken to Los Angeles for a trial that began on Monday, five years after women’s stories about him gave the #MeToo movement tremendous momentum.
Friday’s arguments came a day after the premiere of the film “She Said,” which tells the story of the work of two New York Times reporters whose stories brought Weinstein down.
Weinstein’s attorneys previously tried to delay the Los Angeles trial because publicity for the film could have tainted the jury pool, but the judge denied their motion.
The process is expected to take eight weeks. The judge and lawyers will return to the jury selection process on Monday morning and opening statements are expected to begin on 24 October.
Follow AP Entertainment writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter: twitter.com/andyjamesdalton