Skip to content

The Harvard Regulation Faculty Professor Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., Defends His Choice to Signify Harvey Weinstein

Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., a scientific professor at Harvard Regulation Faculty, is among the many most high-profile criminal-defense legal professionals within the nation. Sullivan represented Aaron Hernandez in his acquittal for a double murder and helped the household of Michael Brown attain a $1.5-million wrongful-death settlement with the town of Ferguson, Missouri. Sullivan has additionally devoted a lot of his profession to representing less-privileged defendants: he’s the director of the Prison Justice Institute at Harvard Regulation Faculty and beforehand served because the director of the Washington, D.C., Public Defender Service. Within the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he helped free hundreds of Louisianans who had been incarcerated with out due course of.Sullivan can also be the primary African-American college dean at Harvard, and this place, mixed along with his newest case, has landed him in an escalating controversy. In January, Harvey Weinstein introduced that Sullivan had joined his protection workforce. Some college students revolted in anger, protesting Sullivan’s determination and signing a web-based petition saying that he ought to resign as the school dean of Winthrop Home. In response, Sullivan wrote an e-mail to Winthrop residents, describing the significance of representing “unpopular defendants”; he went on to nominate a brand new level individual within the residential school for conversations about sexual assault. This did little to quell college students’ considerations, and final week Harvard Faculty introduced that it will conduct a “local weather evaluation” of Winthrop Home, which might result in administrative motion.I just lately spoke twice by telephone with Sullivan to debate his profession and his determination to symbolize Weinstein. Throughout our conversations, which have been edited for size and readability, we additionally mentioned the state of campus debate and his perception that racism contributed to Harvard’s determination to conduct the local weather survey.Why did you determine to symbolize Harvey Weinstein?I’ve been a criminal-defense lawyer since I began as a public defender in Washington, D.C., within the mid-nineties. I symbolize any variety of folks charged with crimes throughout the nation.Is there some cause you selected him? I think about you get numerous alternatives.I had some discussions with legal professionals who represented Mr. Weinstein after which had a dialogue with Mr. Weinstein. Because of these discussions, I made a decision that this case was sufficiently necessary to the rule of regulation that I made a decision to take it on.It was one thing about its significance to the rule of regulation that you simply really feel like you’ll be able to’t get into? Is that what you’re saying?Right.O.Ok. I assume you might be being paid for this.I don’t talk about charges with respect to any shopper.I talked to somebody who’d finished work with public defenders, who clearly knew of your work and appeared as much as you. She texted me, “The principle query I’ve is, public defenders are clear that they symbolize folks with out energy within the system.” What’s your response to that?I believe that’s correct. Public defenders symbolize folks with out energy within the system. I’m not conscious of any felony defendant who has energy within the system. That’s significantly true with respect to felony defendants who’re very unpopular. They are typically the least highly effective folks within the system. In that respect, this illustration is consonant with the illustration I’ve engaged in all my life.Do you suppose that’s true even with white, wealthy, highly effective defendants who’re unpopular? Do you suppose they’re nonetheless at a drawback?Completely, as a result of they stroll into the court docket with the presumption of guilt, versus the presumption of innocence. And it is very important notice that, even with wealthy defendants, their assets pale compared to the assets of the federal government, which has a whole prosecutorial workplace and regulation enforcement at its disposal. Even wealthy individuals are at a useful resource drawback strolling in, so the favored mythology that you would be able to purchase justice actually doesn’t apply within the felony context.If somebody stated to you, “Harvey Weinstein might get a public defender, identical to anybody else, if he can’t get anybody to symbolize him,” what can be your response to that?That’s true.And/however?No, it’s true. Anybody who can’t afford counsel can get a public defender. I’m not making any representations as to what he can or can’t afford.Possibly I ought to rephrase the query: What do you say to individuals who say Harvey Weinstein ought to simply get a public defender quite than having nice legal professionals signal as much as work for him?I personally have issue with that formulation, as a result of I believe that public defenders are among the many greatest within the nation in making an attempt very tough circumstances. They’re skilled to do it. They do it on a regular basis. I don’t suppose there’s a essential dichotomy between public defenders and nice legal professionals. To the extent that your query is “Am I the one lawyer who can symbolize Mr. Weinstein,” the reply is clearly no. That’s by no means been the argument I’ve made. I’ve respectfully urged that I’ve represented folks, each indigent and non-indigent, who’re accused of very critical crimes. I believe the system as a complete is healthier for such illustration. However you might be right that felony defendants have selections of their legal professionals.Do you have got considerations about representing folks accused of sexual misconduct, as a result of the protection of those folks so usually takes the type of disputing ladies’s tales, making ladies out to be liars, calling their credibility into query?A hypothetical case might have that potential. I don’t see that kind of battle on this case. And that’s as far I can go.Does it hassle you that a majority of these accusations are sometimes responded to on this means?It’s onerous to reply that within the summary. It’s unethical for a lawyer to make that kind of insinuation and not using a good-faith foundation. So if the query is whether or not one can willy-nilly assault credibility of complainants, that reply is not any. There are a number of potential defenses in any kind of case, together with sexual-assault circumstances, all of which don’t depend on contesting credibility of complainants. Some clearly do, however others don’t.I do know you’re going to be immune to speaking about Weinstein, however different legal professionals of his have stated ladies weren’t telling the reality. [Ben Brafman, who no longer represents Weinstein, wrote in a letter to the judge that “many of these women have lied,” in December.]I don’t have any touch upon what different legal professionals have stated. I solely symbolize him on this case, and I can’t touch upon trial technique.When did you get a way that this could be controversial with lots of people at Harvard?I’m unsure if it’s lots of people, and I believe that’s necessary to notice. You will have the numbers at your disposal of protesters versus the seven-thousand-student undergraduate inhabitants. I’ll go away that to you. I acquired a way that individuals had been genuinely aggrieved on the determination after the media broke the story.You’re saying that you simply don’t suppose this was an natural controversy however that the media whipped it up? Clearly nobody’s going to search out out till it’s reported, so what do you imply by that?You requested me when did I turn into conscious that individuals had been upset. I turned conscious when folks voiced displeasure. The time limit when that occurred was after the media broke the story. No, I used to be not suggesting that the media whipped it up.That’s virtually tautological, that individuals are going to turn into upset after they turned conscious. That is very lawyer-like right here. You’re getting me to focus my questions higher. What had been the primary indicators that individuals had been upset? How did these manifest themselves?I acquired a couple of e-mails from those who some college students had been having social-media discussions concerning the case or about my illustration. As soon as I acquired these e-mails, I instantly responded to the Home with some ideas concerning the illustration. I really feel as if I’m not answering your query, however I’m not making an attempt to be tough.I didn’t anticipate this response previous to taking the case. The rationale I didn’t anticipate this response is as a result of, the semester earlier than, I attempted the sexual-assault case towards the governor of Missouri. I used to be the lead prosecutor in that case. Beforehand, I had tried a double-murder case. I had represented the household of an accused terrorist. My pondering on the time was that individuals in Winthrop Home had been fairly effectively conscious of my tutorial work as a criminal-law trainer and as a criminal-law practitioner. I used to be personally shocked by the response with respect to this shopper. As soon as I turned conscious of some college students’ discomfort, then I instantly addressed your complete Winthrop Home inhabitants and began a dialog concerning the illustration.In your non-public conversations, what have you ever come away with? Have folks stated something that you simply thought was convincing or has made you suppose twice about it?I do acknowledge that some college students are genuinely upset with the choice to take the case. They’re involved with the allegations which can be lodged towards my shopper, and they’re involved that it will in some way impression the environment at Winthrop Home. These are the key considerations. I ought to say, much more exactly, some college students are involved that individuals will probably be much less inclined to discuss sexual assault within the Home. I take any real scholar concern very significantly, even when these such considerations don’t symbolize nearly all of college students within the Home. It’s an necessary voice, and it’s one which I’ve listened to and proceed listening to.As a professor, I’m, on the root, a trainer. A part of my response has been to acknowledge the real emotions of a few of my college students and encourage an open, free, frank, sturdy dialog about points concerning sexual assault, but additionally points concerning our long-standing constitutional traditions of due course of and truthful illustration of shoppers. I do consider that the 2 could be meaningfully separated. That’s to say: legal professionals should not extensions or alter egos of their shoppers. Additionally, legal professionals don’t symbolize the ideology of their shoppers. Fairly, legal professionals are engaged in a long-standing custom of service to folks accused by the state. Simply as surgeons don’t decline to work on folks as a result of they’re unhealthy, legal professionals too have these identical obligations as soon as they undertake a illustration.If you clarify that to a few of these college students who’re upset, what’s their response?“Clarify” can be sturdy. I’ve been in dialog with many college students on a number of dimensions. One dimension is the constitutional side of it and the long-standing U.S. traditions that actually require the kind of work that I do. The opposite dimension has to do with folks feeling as if they’re able to categorical themselves and, extra particularly, categorical themselves about sexual assault throughout the Home setting. I’ve given equal time to each of these dimensions.I’ll begin with the latter. It is vital for college students to really feel as if they will talk about any matter within the Home. I’ve reassured them of that. These conversations go one thing like this, that “your dean, Dean Sullivan, has represented through the years very many ladies who’ve been victims of sexual assault,” that “I’ve represented Winthrop college students, ladies Winthrop college students, who’ve been victims of sexual assault.” [Sullivan added that he has represented Winthrop students both at Harvard and in court proceedings.] I’ve additionally pointed them to a few of my work as a part of a workforce of students who’ve been going concerning the enterprise of redrafting the Mannequin Penal Code’s sexual-assault provisions, that are very a lot outdated.It makes me wince just a little bit that somebody who’s representing any shopper that they understand as deserving of a good trial ought to have to clarify and even show their bona fides to not get attacked for it. Even if you happen to had finished none of those different issues, it appears necessary to uphold the precept that you simply specified by the primary a part of this interview. There’s a point by which I really feel like if you happen to’re laying out these different issues, you’ve already conceded considerably of the argument.I believe that’s a good argument for the adults within the administration and my colleagues on the school. A part of what’s at stake right here is that this side of trainer/mentor. There are some who might not have thought concerning the full vary of points which can be implicated right here. Within the college setting, my intent is to not be didactic however quite to have interaction in a sequence of conversations with folks. Hopefully, over the course of these conversations, we are able to come to some type of a gathering of minds. In fact, given my lengthy historical past of social-justice work, it’s a very unusual place for me to be in, to have folks justifying my bona fides, however it’s what it’s. We’re right here now. A part of my function is to have interaction the scholars quite than discuss at them.I learn the editorial within the Harvard Crimson, which was very wishy-washy about this, which I suppose I most likely wrongly assumed was indicative of bigger scholar opinion. It looks like perhaps you’re not saying that. [The editorial said, “The students of Winthrop deserve a personal acknowledgement from Sullivan that his decision might make some students feel estranged from the House community.”]I’m positively not conceding that.O.Ok. Your sense of issues is that there’s a giant chunk of scholars at Winthrop Home that help you and that that is extra of a loud minority?I gained’t touch upon the latter, however the former, I consider, is completely true. There are giant chunks of Winthrop college students who both affirmatively help the choice, or, two, are frankly detached to the work that I do exterior of the Home. Certainly, a bunch of scholars requested whether or not I’d constitution a bus for them to return down and watch the trial. I declined that request, but it surely simply offers you a way of the vary of opinions throughout the Home.Do you are feeling that any of the assaults towards you have got been racially motivated?Sure.Particularly?No college dean within the historical past of the home system has been subjected to this kind of course of in the midst of some pending controversy. It’s simply by no means occurred earlier than.You imply the method of the scholars being upset or of the school saying they’re going to look into it?No, this local weather survey. It’s completely by no means occurred earlier than, and I don’t consider that it will occur once more to any non-minority college dean. We might think about, for instance—and these types of issues have occurred—that conservative Christians have an ethical disagreement with homosexuality based mostly on their studying of the Bible. These college students might say, “We, due to this fact, don’t really feel snug talking about problems with sexuality with college deans who’re in a same-sex relationship.” The college would by no means have interaction in a local weather survey or any investigation with respect to that concern. They only wouldn’t do it.[A spokesperson for Harvard said that “the College and FAS have standard processes in place to collect information when climate concerns arise in a faculty-led unit, such as a residential House,” and pointed out that the college conducted an internal investigation into one of its houses, in 2015, in response to concerns that it was unwelcoming to L.G.B.T. students.]Is that this on the dean of Harvard Faculty, who launched this survey, or is that this in response to scholar stress? Do you blame the administration, or do you suppose that the scholars pressured his hand?No, college students have each proper to protest. It’s within the nature of scholars to protest. The adults within the room, nevertheless, would not have to react in the best way that they’ve.Do you suppose that any of the scholar protests had been racially motivated or racially tinged?I don’t know. I’ve gotten a number of notes that there was this racially offensive caricature of me in a drawing that among the college students did. A number of college students are fairly offended by it. I didn’t see the factor personally, however I’ve simply gotten tons of notes about this smiling caricature of a man that individuals discovered to be racially loaded. I don’t in any other case have any proof of scholars with racial animus.There’s been rather a lot written about political correctness operating amok on campus the previous couple of years. Do you think about this an instance of it? Has this incident modified the best way you consider that bigger concern?To the primary a part of your query, the time period political correctness has a lot freight that I’m going to decide on my very own time period and say that this example is a selected instantiation of a bigger menace to each tutorial freedom and the norm of open and sturdy exchanges of concepts which have sometimes characterised universities. It has not modified my pondering, as a result of I’ve lengthy been involved with types of silencing that go on within the college area with respect to individuals who have totally different concepts. I’ve gotten scores of notes from college students who very quietly give sturdy help to me, and I recognize these notes. However one fixed is that they are saying that they really feel as if they can’t say something publicly as a result of they are going to be tarred and feathered as “rape sympathizers” and that they’re disinclined to step out publicly. This kind of factor has no area within the college. Individuals have to have the ability to alternate concepts, even concepts with which they disagree, freely and overtly. That’s that.The opposite factor I wish to say is that we are able to’t lose sight of the truth that one of many causes that is so troubling is that I’m not personally accused of participating in any misconduct. Given the pitch that the administration has allowed this to proceed at and enhance, one would suppose that I had engaged in some type of misconduct with a colleague or a scholar. That’s the furthest factor from the reality. That is all some vicarious affiliation with a shopper whom a number of in our group don’t like. If that turns into the brand new standard-bearer, then we’re going to see continued menace.What do you say to individuals who say that this function at Winthrop Home is particularly a job in these college students’ lives, and it’s about making a group, it’s not concerning the classroom, and so the usual ought to be just a little totally different?I say it’s right that it’s not simply concerning the classroom, but it surely’s not nearly being a thermometer and registering the temperature of scholars at any given time. Fairly, it’s about being the chief of a residing studying heart the place we dwell collectively and we be taught collectively. That is Harvard College. Concepts should proceed to be paramount. To the diploma that we police sure concepts and don’t police others, we’re in hassle as a college. That pains me probably the most.As proof of that, I believe I informed you originally, final yr, I attempted a really high-profile sexual-assault case in Missouri. Not a peep from the administration about this being antagonistic to the pastoral function of the school dean. This feels very very like a type of content material policing from administrative voices. If it had been an issue, it will’ve been an issue earlier, which leads me to suppose that this has all the things to do with a small however vocal group of protesters. Look, one has to take significantly the considerations of scholars. However from the vantage level of a professor and administrator, you additionally should insure that the college is an area the place a number of concepts can exist and that different college students aren’t silenced.It might make an excellent film. Are you aware any producers?My goodness. Oh, that’s humorous. O.Ok. Was {that a} joke?