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New Weinstein lawsuit rides on the legal definition of Hollywood’s ‘casting couch’




Harvey Weinstein exits the court room with his lawyer (R) Benjamin Brafman after his arraignment at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 25, 2018 in New York City.
Harvey Weinstein exits the court room with his lawyer (R) Benjamin Brafman after his arraignment at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 25, 2018 in New York City.
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

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A New York judge has ruled that an aspiring actress can sue Harvey Weinstein for violating sex trafficking laws because the proverbial casting couch, in which women are asked to trade sex for Hollywood opportunities, could be considered a "commercial sex act."

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet said the lawsuit filed by Kadian Noble last fall was fairly brought under sex trafficking laws Congress passed that had an "expansive" definition of what could be considered a commercial sex act. His ruling, dated Monday, was filed publicly Tuesday.

He rejected arguments by Weinstein's lawyers that nothing of value was exchanged between Noble and Weinstein in 2014 when they watched her demo reel in a Cannes, France, hotel room before Weinstein allegedly molested her and forced her into a bathroom to watch him masturbate. Weinstein denies wrongdoing.

His lawyer, Phyllis Kupferstein, said in a statement that the ruling was "just the first round." She promised to appeal, saying the claims "are not legally or factually supported, and ultimately will not be sustained."

In ruling, Sweet wrote: "For an aspiring actress, meeting a world-renowned film producer carries value, in and of itself. The opportunity, moreover, for the actress to sit down with that producer in a private meeting to review her film reel and discuss a promised film role carries value that is career-making and life-changing."

"The contention, therefore, that Noble was given nothing of value — that the expectation of a film role, of a modeling meeting, of 'his people' being 'in touch with her' had no value — does not reflect modern reality," the judge continued. He included a footnote at the word "reality," citing sources that explain that the concept of the casting couch— in which aspiring actors and actresses are promised valuable professional opportunities in exchange for sexual favors— "has been in the American lexicon for nearly a century."

We debate if “casting couch” is considered a “commercial sex act.”

With files from the Associated Press

Guests:

Vince Finaldi, senior attorney and partner at Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, a law firm that represents victims of sexual abuse in California

Stuart Green, distinguished professor of law at Rutgers University who has written about what counts as commercial sex under the law