In the last couple of weeks, the criminal case against Harvey Weinstein has had all of the makings of one of his own Hollywood dramas: a public breakup with his lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, and a controversy surrounding his new attorneys.
On Friday, Mr. Brafman entered the courthouse alone, past a phalanx of reporters and cameras. About ten minutes later, Mr. Weinstein arrived with a trio of new lawyers.
Justice James M. Burke granted Mr. Brafman’s request to withdraw from the case after weeks of feuding with his client, and approved Mr. Weinstein’s proposed new team.
But Justice Burke noted the potential conflicts that could arise because two of his lawyers, Jose Baez and Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., recently represented one of Mr. Weinstein’s most vocal accusers, the actress Rose McGowan.
The judge pointed out to Mr. Weinstein his lawyers would face an ethical problem if the actress were called to testify against him.
Mr. Weinstein, 66, faces five charges in Manhattan, including rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. The charges are related to one woman who accused Mr. Weinstein of raping her in a Midtown hotel and another who said he performed oral sex on her against her will in his apartment.
He has denied the allegations and has said the relationships were consensual.
Ms. McGowan has been a vocal critic of the movie producer and was one of the first women to come forward and accuse him of sexual misconduct. She said Mr. Weinstein assaulted her during a film festival in Utah in 1997, but charges were never filed. It is possible she could be called to testify about her experience to establish a pattern of behavior.
Ms. McGowan has criticized the lawyers for taking the Hollywood producer’s case, calling it an “egregious conflict of interest.”
Mr. Baez and Mr. Sullivan represented Ms. McGowan in November 2017 when she faced drug possession charges in Virginia. She had accused Mr. Weinstein of having a hand in her arrest, saying, without evidence, that he had the drugs planted in her wallet.
This week Ms. McGowan posted on Twitter what appeared to be emails between Mr. Weinstein and his lawyer in Los Angeles, Blair Berk. The emails, from 2017, suggested the producer had meddled in the actress’s case. Their authenticity could not be independently confirmed.
Referring to Ms. McGowan, Mr. Weinstein wrote in an email to Ms. Berk, “Obviously trying to silence her.” Ms. Berk responded: “I took care of getting that arrest warrant issued against her back on February 1 just so there would be no fingerprints. Damn.”
Justice Burke asked Mr. Weinstein if he was aware that the actress had accused him of planting cocaine in her wallet.
“Yes,” he said.
Justice Burke then noted that the Manhattan district attorney’s office also had copies of the emails. He said that should Ms. McGowan be called to testify against Mr. Weinstein, Mr. Baez and Mr. Sullivan could not cross-examine her or use any information they learned about her during her case.
“Do you agree to permit these attorneys to represent you even with these limitations?” the judge asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Weinstein said.
After the series of questions about his new lawyers had concluded, Justice Burke called lawyers from both sides to his bench. Mr. Brafman stepped away from the defense table and took a seat in the gallery.
Standing on the courthouse steps after the hearing had ended, Mr. Brafman wished Mr. Weinstein “the best of luck.”
The producer’s new lawyers — Mr. Baez, Mr. Sullivan and Duncan Levin, who will be his strategic adviser — stepped in front of the television cameras and reporters. A fourth lawyer expected to assist them, Pamela Robillard Mackey, was out of the country.
Mr. Baez declared that Mr. Weinstein was innocent.
“I think this case is testing the presumption of innocence,” Mr. Baez said, “and you have a man who needs to stand trial for these specific acts and he should be entitled to the same presumption as everyone else.”
Mr. Weinstein is due back in court on March 8. His trial is expected to start in May.