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A famed feminist attorney sides with Harvey Weinstein in harassment case

Lawyer Lisa Bloom and client Blac Chyna at a press conference at Los Angeles Superior Court in July. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

Among the many surprising things about the sexual harassment allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein is the identity of one of the people Weinstein has signed up to defend him.

Los Angeles attorney Lisa Bloom, who made her reputation advocating on behalf of women, has been advising Weinstein as he responds to explosive claims in a story published by the New York Times on Thursday. The Times said Weinstein, the producer of such films as "Good Will Hunting" and "Pulp Fiction" and a major Democratic donor, had a notorious reputation among women in Hollywood and has settled eight harassment complaints over the past 30 years.

Bloom's alliance with Weinstein puts her in an unusual and perhaps awkward position. Only five months ago, she was on the opposite side of another high-profile sexual harassment case — one also sparked by a Times article.

In April, Bloom, 56, advised several women who claimed that Fox News host Bill O'Reilly had harassed them when they worked with him at the network. The allegations touched off a media firestorm, fanned in part by Bloom's frequent TV appearances, that led to the end of O'Reilly's career at Fox.

In an interview Thursday shortly after the Times published its story, Bloom said she saw no contradiction in working for Weinstein, whose alleged behavior the Times described in much the same way Bloom once described O’Reilly’s.

An explosive New York Times story has revealed sexual harassment allegations against famed producer Harvey Weinstein. (Video: Nicki DeMarco/The Washington Post)

“I’m not on a side,” she said. “This is not a side. . . . I’m on the side of moving the ball forward for women’s rights. There are a lot of ways to do that. I speak about it, I appear on TV, I write books about it. I saw this as a unique opportunity to advise a high-profile guy how to respond. And he listened.”

Weinstein, 65, said on Thursday that he would take a leave of absence from running his studio, the Weinstein Co.. In a statement, he acknowledged that “the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.” He did not deny any specific claims but said he intends to sue the paper for defamation, seeking $50 million.

Bloom was quick to add that she's not part of any litigation against the Times. Another attorney, Charles Harder — who represented wrestler Hulk Hogan in the defamation suit that led to the demise of the website Gawker last year — is handling that part of Weinstein's response, she said.

But she said the newspaper gave Weinstein 48 hours to respond to a long list of accusations and that it refused to grant him more time when “we begged for it.” (A Times spokeswoman said Weinstein was given adequate time to respond to “events he had first-hand knowledge of” and that the newspaper had included “all relevant comments from Mr. Weinstein” in its story. She added, “Mr. Weinstein and his lawyer . . . have not pointed to any errors or challenged any facts in our story.”)

Bloom said her role over the past year or so has been to counsel Weinstein about his workplace behavior, especially his treatment of women. She said she has had “frank talks” with him about his legendary temper, his use of profanity in public settings and his propensity for “loose talk about sex” around women he employs or has worked with.

In this, she claims some limited success: “He’s thrown out the old playbook” in responding to harassment allegations, Bloom said. “He hasn’t gone out and dug up dirt on his accusers or tried to undermine their reputations. Instead, he has apologized for misconduct. He is deeply apologetic. He has acknowledged that he has to overcome his demons. . . . He said, ‘Lisa, you’ve really gotten through to me.’ ”

In a statement Thursday, she said Weinstein “is reading books and going to therapy. He is an old dinosaur learning new ways.”

Bloom gave no such benefit of the doubt to O'Reilly, who is 68. In frequent TV appearances last spring, Bloom lacerated the Fox News host as an unreformed workplace predator. "When women speak our truth, the old order shatters," she tweeted after O'Reilly's ouster. "We slayed the dragon. Never forget this is what we're capable of."

O’Reilly declined to comment on Thursday.

Bloom's role in the O'Reilly episode went beyond representing some of his accusers. After his ouster, she and one of her clients, former Fox guest Wendy Walsh, went to London to urge the British government to deny approval of a long-sought acquisition by Fox's parent company, 21st Century Fox, of the Sky satellite TV company.

Nor has Bloom — the daughter of famed feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents some of the women who've accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault and Donald Trump of groping them — been so generous to other men her clients have opposed over the years.

Earlier this year, she represented actress Mischa Barton, who alleged that a former boyfriend sought to profit by selling explicit photos and videos of her. Bloom called the ex-boyfriend's alleged behavior "disgusting" and termed his conduct "a form of sexual assault." The actress settled the "revenge porn" case in June, regaining custody of the images.

Bloom sought to distance her representation of Weinstein from a somewhat parallel professional relationship: feminist-attorney Susan Estrich's defense of Roger Ailes, the late Fox News chairman. Estrich raised eyebrows last year when she defended Ailes, an old friend, against multiple accusations of sexual harassment. The allegations eventually led to Ailes's firing from Fox and millions of dollars in settlements with his accusers.

Said Bloom, “Susan Estrich went after [Ailes’s] accusers and called them liars. I’m not doing that.” Estrich did not respond to a request for comment.

Bloom said Weinstein hired her about a year ago after he and the rapper Jay-Z jointly bought the TV rights to her 2014 book, "Suspicion Nation," about the Trayvon Martin case. She said she began speaking with him at that time about long-standing rumors in Hollywood about him. "I don't hold back, and I didn't," she said. "Harvey can take it, and he did. He said, 'I've been stupid. I'm a dinosaur, and I've got to change.' I thought, 'Perhaps I can do something to make a difference.' "

To those who will find her involvement with Weinstein out of character, even hypocritical, Bloom replied: “I don’t care. I’ve never put my finger to the wind and said, ‘What’s the most popular thing to do today?’ . . . I have been speaking up for women’s rights for many years. I’m pleased to represent Harvey.”

One of the people who finds Bloom’s role surprising, even problematic, is her own mother.

Allred issued a statement on Thursday that said, " While I would not represent Mr. Weinstein, I would consider representing anyone who accused Mr. Weinstein of sexual harassment, even if it meant that my daughter was the opposing counsel."

Bloom sees no real dispute or contradiction between her and Allred. “My mother only represents plaintiffs in employment discrimination cases,” she said. “I have a broader law practice open to other kinds of cases. She gets to make her choices, and I make mine.”

She laughed and added, “If anything, it will make for some interesting conversation at Thanksgiving.”