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Harvard Law Prof. Sullivan Defends Decision to Represent Weinstein Following Student Concerns

Winthrop House Commencement
Winthrop House Faculty Dean and Law School Professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr, pictured here at a 2010 event, will serve on the legal team of Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood film producer who has been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women.

Harvard Law Professor and Winthrop House Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. sent an email to Winthrop students and resident tutors Friday defending his decision to represent former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in his Manhattan sexual abuse case.

Sullivan sent the missive to Winthrop affiliates late Friday night, writing that he had heard some residents had concerns about about his decision to represent Weinstein.

“It has come to my attention that a few of you have questions and a few others have concerns in regard to my most recent representation,” Sullivan wrote. “I shall take this opportunity to say a word to our community about the nature of criminal defense in the United States.”

Sullivan also announced he would be holding office hours on Monday and Tuesday night for anyone with questions or concerns.

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“Winthrop has been and will remain a space that welcomes all points of view,” Sullivan wrote. “Free, frank and robust dialogue is the best way to clear up any confusions.”

Sullivan wrote more broadly about representation in the United States, writing that “every citizen charged with a crime is cloaked with the presumption of innocence.”

His email mentioned his own work, including his time as a public defender and his past experience representing students at Harvard. Last spring, Sullivan represented a black College student after his arrest by Cambridge Police sparked allegations of police brutality. Charges were ultimately not filed against the student.

Sullivan’s email — which stretches more than 1,200 words over 13 paragraphs — focused on the history and nature of criminal defense. His message centered on the importance of representing the “unpopular defendant.”

“It is particularly important for this category of unpopular defendant to receive the same process as everyone else – perhaps even more important,” Sullivan said. “To the degree we deny unpopular defendants basic due process rights we cease to be the country we imagine ourselves to be.”

Kenard G. Dillon II ’20, a junior in Winthrop House, said he was “very shocked” by the news and was disappointed that he first heard of Sullivan’s new case from the media rather than from Sullivan himself.

“One thing in the aftermath that I’m personally upset about is that speaking with tutors and my resident dean, basically everyone found out through The Crimson’s report or other reporting in the news,” Dillon said. “There was nothing that was said from his end before the news broke.”

Dillon also added that he was not satisfied with the email, saying the message appeared to be “trying to clean up some of the mess from not having spoken about it.”

“I think overall I understand that Ron’s job is as a criminal defense attorney, but also his job is Faculty Dean of Winthrop House,” Dillon said.

Sullivan did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday night.

Weinstein faces five charges in a Manhattan sexual abuse trial as a result of allegations that he raped one woman and forcibly performed oral sex on another. The trial is set to begin May 7.

On Friday, Justice James M. Burke approved Sullivan’s appointment to Weinstein’s legal team alongside attorneys Jose Baez and Pamela Mackey, but warned Weinstein of a potential conflict of interest between Sullivan, Baez, and actress Rose A. McGowan.

Sullivan and Baez represented the actress in her 2017 Virginia drug possession case. She also publicly accused Weinstein of rape in Oct. 2017.

Burke said Sullivan and Baez would not be allowed to cross-examine McGowan or use any information from their previous case if she is called to testify against Weinstein.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at aidan.ryan@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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