LOS ANGELES: Harvey Weinstein was hit with new sex crimes charges in Los Angeles on Monday (Jan 6) just as his high-profile trial in a separate case opened in New York, kicking off proceedings key to the #MeToo movement.
The case in California stems from a two-year investigation into allegations from several women that the disgraced movie mogul assaulted them in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.
Weinstein has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and his attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to the charge sheet, Weinstein allegedly went to a Los Angeles area hotel on Feb 18, 2013 and raped a woman after pushing his way into her room. The woman alleges she did not immediately disclose the assault as Weinstein threatened her life if she did so.
The next day, he allegedly assaulted a woman at a hotel suite in Beverly Hills after she unwittingly followed him into the bathroom.
Neither woman has been identified.
"We believe the evidence will show that the defendant used his power and influence to gain access to his victims and then commit violent crimes against them," Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement.
"I want to commend the victims who have come forward and bravely recounted what happened to them," she added. "It is my hope that all victims of sexual violence find strength and healing as they move forward."
Earlier on Monday, Weinstein entered the New York state courthouse looking frail in a dark suit and using a walker, more than two years after a slew of allegations against him triggered waves of outrage over pervasive sexual assault in the workplace, leading to the downfall of dozens of powerful men.
Demonstrators anchored by actresses Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette, two of Weinstein's most prominent accusers, gathered outside the Manhattan court wielding signs with slogans like "Justice for survivors."
"Time's up on sexual harassment in all work places," Arquette said. "Time's up on empty apologies without consequences. And time's up on the pervasive culture of silence that has enabled abusers like Weinstein."
The first day in court was largely technical and lasted just over an hour, with the judge rejecting a defence request that the jury be sequestered.
Burke said pre-screening would begin Tuesday and proper jury selection could be delayed until January 14 with proceedings expected to last six to eight weeks.
Weinstein did not speak during the hearing or to reporters outside and is unlikely to testify.
The co-founder of Miramax Films faces life in prison if convicted of his crimes in New York and 28 years if convicted in Los Angeles.
He is also the subject of criminal investigations in several other countries, including Britain, France and Italy.
Almost 90 women, including Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, have accused the 67-year-old of sexual misconduct since The New York Times detailed claims against him in October 2017.
But Weinstein is being tried in New York on charges related to just two women, highlighting the difficulty of building cases around years-old incidents.
Former production assistant Mimi Haleyi alleges that the "Pulp Fiction" producer forcibly performed oral sex on her in his New York apartment in July 2006.
The second alleged victim is anonymous. She says Weinstein raped her in a New York hotel room in March 2013.
"The Sopranos" actress Annabella Sciorra will also give evidence as the prosecution seeks to convince the jury that Weinstein engaged in a pattern of predatory sexual behaviour.
A Weinstein conviction would signal a watershed moment.
Almost all men felled in the deluge of allegations unleashed by the #MeToo movement, be it in the world of entertainment or business, have escaped prosecution.
The only other trial on the horizon is that of R&B singer R. Kelly, who was charged last year with several assaults on young women, but allegations of sexual impropriety have dogged him for years.
American comedian Bill Cosby was sentenced to at least three years in prison in September 2018, although proceedings had started in late 2015, two years before the post-Weinstein surge of allegations.
'STRENGTH AND COURAGE'
On Monday, Sarah Ann Masse, an actress who says Weinstein sexually assaulted her when she interviewed for a job as a nanny in 2008, voiced support for those testifying, sending them "so much strength and courage."
"The man has spent 30-plus years assaulting over 100 women - it's incredibly clear what happened," she told AFP.
Weinstein has always maintained his sexual relationships were consensual and his defence team has sought to undermine the allegations of the two New York accusers.
They have produced emails and text messages which they say show that both remained in friendly contact with the accused for several months after the alleged events.
In an email interview with CNN, published on Saturday, Weinstein suggested he may be able to rebuild his career in the movie business if acquitted.
"If I can get back to doing something good and building places that help heal and comfort others, I intend to do so," he wrote.
Masse voiced hope for a far different outcome: "I am hoping he goes to jail for the rest of his life."