Earlier this week, Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan M. Dershowitz joined the defense team of former film producer Harvey Weinstein, who faces multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. Dershowitz, who will consult on constitutional law issues in a class action civil lawsuit involving Weinstein, is now the second Harvard affiliate to become involved with Weinstein’s legal defense team.
We condemned Winthrop House Faculty Dean Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr.’s decision to defend Weinstein in a separate criminal case, citing that Sullivan’s roles and responsibilities as faculty dean were incompatible with his role as defense attorney. But Dershowitz has no such responsibility on campus. He does not face any analogous conflict of interest within his roles. Unlike Sullivan, Dershowitz is charged neither with maintaining the well-being of students directly in his care, nor with fostering a sense of community on campus. This stands in direct contrast to Sullivan — a major point of contact in Winthrop for issues of residential life and a mentor and leader to students and House affiliates. We maintain that it is incongruous for Sullivan to defend Weinstein in the Manhattan sex abuse case, but we see no such issue with Dershowitz’s role in the Weinstein class action lawsuit.
Dershowitz is acting well within his rights as a private citizen and trial lawyer, especially given his record of representing figures like O.J. Simpson, Bill Clinton, and Mike Milken. Moreover, he is a preeminent legal expert within the field of constitutional law, which makes him welcome to decide to provide his expertise on this case in accordance with his own beliefs and interests. Furthermore, Weinstein did not directly hire Dershowitz, as he hired Sullivan.
While it may appear alarming that Harvard professors have been coming to Weinstein’s defense, we believe that this may be a consequence of the University and specifically the Law School’s position as one of the nation’s leading academic institutions. It is to be expected that many faculty members, who are often prominent legal experts, would be involved with high-profile cases such as this one. Professors are not necessarily morally culpable for the actions of their clients, and we reaffirm our view that we recognize a moral imperative for all individuals to receive fair legal representation. Our arguments apply as much to Sullivan as they do to Dershowitz; our objection to Sullivan’s choice in representing Weinstein is rooted in his “pastoral” role within Winthrop House, not in his professional practice of criminal defense.
We also understand that the news surrounding Dershowitz’s decision to involve himself in the Weinstein civil suit has drawn attention and notoriety considering that Dershowitz himself has faced allegations of sexual misconduct, namely his alleged interactions with billionaire and convicted sex offender Jeffrey E. Epstein. While some may view Dershowitz’s decision to defend Weinstein as a questionable personal choice, we maintain our view that he is within his rights to select his own clients. At the same time, others are free to form their own opinions about Dershowitz, based on his choice of defendants and history of political pronouncements.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.