An Allen & Overy partner involved in drawing up a gagging order on behalf of Harvey Weinstein has been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
Solicitors Regulation Authority chief executive Paul Philip confirmed that the SRA had referred an A&O lawyer involved in the Weinstein NDA as he spoke to the Women and Equalities Committee this week. “The solicitor involved is one of the cases that has been referred to the solicitor’s disciplinary tribunal", he said, but did not identify the person.
Mark Mansell, a partner at the firm, drew up the gagging order in 1998 after Zelda Perkins, one of the disgraced Hollywood mogul's personal assistants, accused Weinstein of sexually harassing her and attempting to rape a colleague. The NDA was onerous, requiring Perkins to:
- obtain a confidentiality agreement from any doctor she vistied in connection with the incident
- not speak about the alleged incident even when required to do so by law or "where reasonably practicable in the case of any criminal legal process" without first giving Mansell at least 48 hours written notice, and to "use all reasonable endeavours to limit the scope of the disclosure as far as possible."
Perkins said Mansell and the A&O team ground her down and that she was "broken" after several "incredibly distressing" and "intense" negotiation sessions at Allen & Overy's London office. Perkins said her grilling culminated in a 12-hour marathon which finished at 5am. 24-years-old at the time, she said, “I was made to feel ashamed for disclosing his behaviour and assault, and expected to name those I had spoken to, as if they too were guilty of something".
It was distressing for everyone.
An ex-Miramax employee suggested to RollOnFriday that Allen & Overy "must have put together a load of NDAs" given the stories that had not emerged about Weinstein's behaviour in the UK. She said, "Certainly my boss cannot speak about anything because of what he signed".
In correspondence with RollOnFriday, another ex-Miramax staffer said, "I would think that any lawyers involved in Miramax business, namely Allen & Overy, knew exactly what was going on given that Harvey's 'antics' were an open secret".
In March 2018 the SRA warned solicitors not to use NDAs to stop victims reporting sexual misconduct. Bettina Bender, a partner at law firm Winckworth Sherwood, said that sexual harassment "was effectively ignored or swept under the carpet for a very long time” and that the A&O lawyer's referral "evidences a new risk for legal advisers". Advice they gave to parties before the #MeToo movement and the shift in public perception "will now be revisited through today’s lens" she said, "with the related reputational and professional conduct risks", which includes fines and a potential striking off.
Philip said it had taken so long to bring a prosecution because, despite the NDA making headlines in October 2017, the SRA only became "engaged" 10 months ago. He said the referral followed further advice received from counsel.
A spokeswoman for Allen an Overy said, “We are unable to comment on an ongoing investigation”.