Cuba Gooding Jr will go on trial in February in his New York City groping case, a judge said, with prosecutors planning to portray the actor as a serial offender and the defence contending the case is an example of #MeToo run amok.
Judge Curtis Farber set a February 1 trial date in the case, which involves allegations the Oscar-winning Jerry Maguire star violated three different women at three different Manhattan night spots in 2018 and 2019.
One of the women alleged Gooding pinched her buttocks.
Another said he squeezed her breast.
Mr Farber had expressed a desire to start the trial sooner, possibly in December, but Gooding lawyer Peter Toumbekis said he will be tied up with trials in the Bronx then.
“I want to lock this down for trial,” Mr Farber said at a Monday hearing in state court in Manhattan.
“This case has been on my calendar for two years, going on three years.”
“If I give you a firm date, I don’t want to hear that the case in the Bronx didn’t go and the judge adjourned it to February,” the exasperated judge said.
“That’s not going to fly with me.”
Gooding had been scheduled to go on trial in April 2020, but that was scuttled as coronavirus cases surged in New York and the state shut down most court matters.
Gooding was arrested in June 2019 after a 29-year-old woman told police he squeezed her breast without her consent at Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge near Times Square.
A few months later, Gooding was charged in two additional incidents as more women came forward to accuse him of abuse.
He was accused of pinching a server’s buttocks after making a sexually suggestive remark to her at TAO Downtown and forcibly touching a woman inappropriately at the Lavo New York nightclub, both in 2018.
In all, Gooding, 53, is charged with six misdemeanour counts that could land him in jail if he is convicted.
He has pleaded not guilty and denies all allegations of wrongdoing.
His lawyers have argued that overzealous prosecutors, caught up in the fervour of the #MeToo movement, are trying to turn “commonplace gestures” or misunderstandings into crimes.
For example, Gooding’s lawyers say video of the TAO incident shows Gooding tapping the woman on the back with a fingernail and turning around to give her a high-five to say goodbye as he leaves the club.
Prosecutors made arrangements for Toumbekis and Gooding to see video of the Lavo New York episode, which the lawyer said he’d been prevented from doing because of Covid-19 restrictions at the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
Gooding, in a dark suit, tie and face mask, waited on a bench in the courtroom gallery while Mr Farber attended to two other cases before the star’s case was called.
Gooding did not speak during the hearing.
As he was leaving court, he gave a thumbs up to a man in the hallway who called out his name.
Mr Farber previously ruled that prosecutors can call two additional women to give evidence about their allegations that Gooding also violated them.
Those women, whose claims did not result in criminal charges, were among 19 other accusers whom prosecutors were seeking to call as witnesses.
In addition to the criminal case, Gooding is accused in a lawsuit of raping a woman in New York City in 2013.
After a judge issued a default judgment in July because Gooding had not responded to the lawsuit, the actor retained a lawyer who indicated they would fight it.