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Susan Estrich commentary: The weaponization of #MeToo

Summary: The problem with the judicial system today is not that it is wrong but that it is slow. There was a time, not so long ago, when a woman claiming sexual assault had trouble getting anyone's attention, no matter the validity of her claim. But the courts have changed; the rules have changed; and the consequences of conviction have drastically changed. The problem is that these changes have also been accompanied by a tendency to rush to judgment at the first charge, not in the courtroom but in the public trial that takes place at warp speed in both mass and social media.

Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich commentary
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The nasty emails have started to come in, as I knew they would. "Why are you representing a rapist," they begin, and forget about all that Clarence Darrow stuff. "Why you?"
For starters, I'm not, and there is a very good reason why it's me.
Normally, I would ho-hum a story about a billionaire being accused of rape by a younger former model. No, normally I would assume it was true, the presumption of innocence be damned, because it so often is and because I'm one of those who have been arguing for decades that women should be believed. But I went to college with this particular billionaire, and I just couldn't believe it.
So, I did something that most people wouldn't begin to know how to do: I read all the papers. I read the complaints, and I read the answers, and it seemed perfectly clear just from reading them that a movement I deeply believe in was being hijacked, plain and simple. Reading the direct quotes from the "victim" professing love and then demanding $100 million for her silence, collecting almost $10 million before deciding she wanted even more, never even mentioning sexual assault in her demands until she brought suit seven years later. It made no sense or, rather, it made the worst kind of sense. I offered to help.
That's why me.
Then it got worse. It always saddens me when I see a woman — usually a woman with problems — falsely claim rape. It happens —not nearly as often as women who were raped fail to report it, which continues to be a much larger problem. But it happens. And it also happens that people like me, in the rush to right past wrongs, can believe what we should not. That is what happened to me in the case of the Duke lacrosse team, where I joined a chorus of those who wrongly rushed to judgment.
But I never would have believed her had not the district attorney, for selfish reasons, decided to adopt her story. And I never would have been reading about my old friend being accused of rape had she not found backers — lawyers, public relations people and the disappointed suitor for the top job held by my friend — to support her.
Maybe her lawyers believed her at the outset. But how could they continue to believe her when confronted with her own words, inviting him to come by and "tuck her in" and bring wine, sending love the next day and asking to see him again and again. Are we lawyers nothing but scribes who wrap lies in pleading paper to protect them from scrutiny?
And a disappointed suitor willing to turn on the man who made him a billionaire out of bitterness and anger after being spurned by the board of the company? How dare he be using the movement built literally on the backs of so many women for his own palace intrigue.
The problem with the judicial system today is not that it is wrong but that it is slow. There was a time, not so long ago, when a woman claiming sexual assault had trouble getting anyone's attention, no matter the validity of her claim. But the courts have changed; the rules have changed; and the consequences of conviction have drastically changed. The problem is that these changes have also been accompanied by a tendency to rush to judgment at the first charge, not in the courtroom but in the public trial that takes place at warp speed in both mass and social media.
And because of that, the movement as a whole becomes vulnerable to hijacking, which is precisely what has happened to my client, Leon Black.

Susan Estrich can be reached at sestrich@wctrib.com.

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Related Topics: COMMENTARY
Opinion by Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich is an American lawyer, professor, author, political operative, and political commentator. She can be reached via sestrich@wctrib.com.
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