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A New York judge declined to dismiss sexual assault charges against Harvey Weinstein Thursday, rejecting the latest push from the disgraced film producer's lawyers to have his indictment thrown out.
Judge James Burke's ruling buoyed a prosecution that has appeared on rocky ground in recent months amid a prolonged defense effort to raise doubts about the case and the police investigation.
Weinstein's lawyers argued the case had been "irreparably tainted" by a detective's alleged coaching of a potential witness and one of the accusers. They also said the grand jury should have been shown evidence that Weinstein had exchanged friendly emails with his two accusers after the alleged attacks.
Prosecutors insisted their case was strong.
Weinstein's defense attorney, Benjamin Brafman, said he was disappointed with Burke's ruling, but said he remains confident Weinstein will be "completely exonerated" at trial.
"We intend to vigorously defend this case to the best of our ability," Brafman told reporters after the hearing. "It does not in any way suggest that the case against Mr. Weinstein is going to end badly."
Weinstein has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex. He pleaded not guilty and is free on $1 million bail. He left court without commenting.
He is charged with raping an unidentified female acquaintance in his hotel room in 2013 and performing a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006.
Images of Weinstein, the notoriously bombastic producer of Oscar winners "Shakespeare in Love" and "The English Patient," in handcuffs last spring were seen by many women as a cathartic moment in the #MeToo reckoning. About half a dozen women supporting Time's Up, including actresses Amber Tamblyn and Marisa Tomei, were at the hearing Thursday.
"Today, here in New York, we saw the first steps towards justice," Time's Up President Lisa Borders said after the judge's ruling.
Burke could have dismissed some or all of the charges, which would have been a major setback for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who was criticized for declining to pursue criminal charges against Weinstein when he was accused of groping an Italian model in 2015. Vance cited a lack of supporting evidence at the time, despite the existence of a clandestinely made recording of Weinstein discussing the episode with the woman.
But in recent months, Weinstein worked side-by-side with Brafman to throw doubt on the case and his accusers. They plucked emails from his movie studio's servers they say showed Weinstein had friendly, consensual relationships with the women.
Weinstein's defense was boosted in October by back-to-back allegations of misconduct in the police investigation.
Manhattan prosecutors dropped one of the charges against him — allegations that he raped an aspiring actress who was still in college — after evidence surfaced that Det. Nicholas DiGaudio instructed a potential witness to keep some of her doubts about the veracity of the allegations to herself.
DiGaudio allegedly told the witness in February that when she spoke to prosecutors, "less is more." That witness never testified before the grand jury that indicted Weinstein.
Prosecutors also disclosed an allegation that DiGaudio urged the 2013 rape accuser to delete private material from her cellphones before handing them over to the DA's office.
Prosecutors said the material didn't pertain to Weinstein and the woman wound up not deleting anything.
DiGaudio's union has said he "was simply trying to get to the truth" and wasn't trying to influence the investigation.
Late last month, Weinstein's lawyers said they spoke to a woman who said the rape accuser asked her to corroborate her allegations, but the friend wouldn't "make up a story."
The friend told investigators that Weinstein and the accuser had been "hooking up" consensually for a while and that she never heard her say anything bad about him until last year, Brafman said in a court filing.
In the months after The New York Times and The New Yorker began publishing stories about Weinstein's interactions with women, activists pressured Vance to bring charges as dozens of people came forward with claims of sexual misconduct against him.
New York Police officials poured on the pressure, too, saying publicly they believed they had gathered ample evidence to make an arrest.
The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assaults unless they come forward publicly.