On Monday afternoon at Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault trial, a defense lawyer asked Miriam Haley if she planned to sue him. Haley is one of two women whose allegations of forced sexual encounters could send Weinstein to prison for life, if he is found guilty.
“There’s always a possibility,” Haley answered.
Seated in the front row of the courtroom, crimson coat draped behind her and a yellow legal pad in her lap, sat Gloria Allred: feminist crusader, civil litigator, and Haley’s lawyer. For decades, Allred has been a consistent antagonist to America’s baddest men, filing multimillion-dollar sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits on behalf of mistreated women. She has been called a feminist hero, an “ambulance chaser of feminism,” and “a slick butch lawyeress.” She won a libel settlement from a former California state senator (who happened to be Mary Kay LeTourneau’s father) over the last one.
Representing witnesses in criminal trials is not her primary occupation, Allred said when I visited her at a plush hotel in Midtown. “But if asked and if my schedule permits, I will consider doing it.” She represented four “prior bad act” witnesses at Bill Cosby’s two criminal trials. Nicole Brown’s sister Denise Brown was a client.
Allred represents three women testifying at Weinstein’s trial. She has been a consistent presence at Weinstein’s court appearances—to the irritation of his defense, who unsuccessfully tried to bar Allred from attending the trial. “My sense is they fear me,” she said in a press conference outside the courthouse. When I recently repeated her words to Weinstein defense attorney Arthur Aidala, who has tangled with Allred before, he was incredulous. “Our legal team fears her?” asked Aidala. “Yeah, that’s not the word.”
Haley first came forward with her accusation at an Allred-led press conference in October 2017. (She went by Mimi Haleyi then; she has since legally changed her surname.) She says that Weinstein held her down and forcibly performed oral sex on her in 2006. During cross-examination, defense lawyer Damon Cheronis asked why her initial statement did not mention that she accepted plane tickets from Weinstein, stayed in touch, and in her words “did not physically resist” a later sexual encounter. “It wasn’t really relevant,” she said. “It would have been a two-hour press conference.” He also emphasized that Haley does not pay Allred. To me, Allred explained that her hourly rate of $1,200 is prohibitive for “most of the clients that I represent.” She mostly works on contingency, and sometimes pro bono.
Allred also represents Sopranos actor Annabella Sciorra, who testified last week about an alleged attack in the early 1990s. And she represents Lauren Young, who is expected to testify about an alleged unwanted encounter in Beverly Hills in 2012. Prosecutors say that Sciorra’s and Young’s testimonies illustrate a pattern of behavior. (Two other women, whom Allred does not represent, have also testified about an alleged predatory pattern.) Asked during cross-examination why she hired Allred, Sciorra said, “Because I wanted to know what my rights were.”
Or as Allred said to me: “The prosecution has to act in the interests of justice. They’re not advocates.” But she is.
Ringed by news cameras after Haley’s testimony, Allred spoke into a cluster of microphones: “I’m telling you, it takes an enormous amount of courage to be a woman, to be a victim, and to testify and be cross-examined in a court of law.” She declined to tell me what, specifically, she’s done to advocate for her clients at Weinstein’s trial, but noted “it’s an artificial situation where someone is testifying under oath. It’s not like having a conversation, there are rules.” Allred and a legal partner represented Scott Peterson’s ex-girlfriend Amber Frey, who testified against Peterson at the 2004 trial that convicted him for murdering wife Laci. In her 2009 book Fight Back and Win, Allred writes that by the time Frey testified, “we had spent days preparing her.” She choreographed Frey’s court appearances, managed media interest, and had a “heart-to-heart discussion” with Larry Flynt to keep semi-nude photos of Frey out of Hustler.
“I don’t like the idea of the operation was successful, but the patient died,” she said to me. “In other words: Someone gets convicted, but the witness is ruined, the witness who had the courage to testify. I don’t think that’s right.”
Ruin, however, can be subjective. Aidala’s issue with Allred stems from what he characterizes as poor treatment of a victim—her own client—in 2011. That was the year that one of Aidala’s clients, former New York Giants star Lawrence Taylor, pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct after having sex with a 16-year-old whom he believed was a prostitute. When Taylor was sentenced to six years of probation, the girl, then 17, issued a statement outside the courthouse characterizing the sentence as too lenient. Allred was by her side.
Aidala was irate. “Ladies and gentlemen, this young woman is being victimized once again,” he said, jumping in front of the microphones after Allred’s press conference to accuse the lawyer of needlessly sacrificing the young woman’s anonymity. “It’s just so sad that someone of the caliber of Gloria just stooped so low to possibly ruin the life, once again, of this young woman. Why? She’s on television every day. She doesn’t need to do this.” Aidala’s rant ended up on TMZ. He still characterizes the incident as one of the most upsetting of his career. A different lawyer from Allred’s firm represented the girl in a lawsuit related to the incident, which went to trial. Aidala represented Taylor in the case and won.
“There are people who are addicted to fame and addicted to the spotlight. Like literally addicted,” Aidala told me by phone.
“He thinks he can try to attack me as well, as well as the victims? God bless,” said Allred. “We’ve won hundreds of millions of dollars for victims over these decades, and we’re proud of our record. It’s unmatched by any other women’s rights law firm.” She rattled off a list of her accolades, including induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. But when I brought up the Taylor case, she seemed to pull up a blank. To refresh her memory, I said the client had accused Aidala’s client of rape. She shook her head: “I don’t remember. I’ve represented many people who allege that they were rape victims.” After revisiting the archives of Allred, Maroko & Goldberg, she told me the press conference was a response to Taylor’s victim not being allowed to deliver a victim-impact statement.
Allred wrote in an email: “Mr. Aidala was not Mr. Weinstein’s first choice for a criminal defense attorney. I don’t even know if he was the second or third choice, but he seems elated to be one of the five attorneys on the defense team representing a man that is accused of being a sexual predator. Mr. Aidala makes a living representing individuals who are charged with sexual violence against women and girls.”
She continued: “I believe that his most recent statement is one more attempt to silence or intimidate me which, like the Weinstein defense team’s effort to exclude me from the courtroom, will not be successful.”
When Weinstein’s sexual harassment scandal was breaking in 2017, Allred’s daughter, Lisa Bloom, provided legal consultation for the movie producer. When I asked Allred about Bloom, who is also a civil litigator specializing in sexual harassment, Allred cut me off. “My daughter has a separate law firm,” she said. “I don’t discuss my cases with her. And she doesn’t discuss her cases with me.”
When I asked Allred about Chicago magazine calling Weinstein defense lawyer Donna Rotunno “the anti–Gloria Allred,” she replied, “I’d never heard of Donna Rotunno before this case.” But, Allred observed, they do seem to have opposing views on #MeToo. Allred is quick to note that women’s empowerment predates hashtags. And yet: “I do think it’s an unprecedented time. I can’t remember any time in the last 40-some some years that there have been so many criminal cases filed against rich, powerful, famous people.”
“I think the key is just to tell the truth,” Allred said of those testifying against such people. “I think a jury understands when they’re telling the truth. My clients know that. I think they’re ready, as ready as anyone can be; there’s a bit of the unknown.”
“Of course, whatever happens in this trial, there are charges also filed against him in Los Angeles,” she continued. “I also represent some people who may be witnesses in that case.”
Allred was exiting the courthouse on Friday when I caught her to relay a comment. While we spoke, an ABC News reporter was inserting Allred’s arms into her coat, on instruction to hustle her out the door and uptown for an appearance on Nightline. I told her that Aidala had expressed disbelief when I said she forgot about him and Lawrence Taylor. She shrugged on her coat.
She shrugged again: “He wasn’t that memorable.”