Danny Masterson, who was recently charged in the rape of three women, made his first court appearance on Friday in a Los Angeles courtroom where his attorney maintained his innocence and claimed that the charges against him were “politicized.”
The “That ‘70s Show” alum stood before a judge on Friday in a dark blue suit with a gray tie and face-covering as the three accusers sat in the gallery.
The 44-year-old was arrested in June but has been free on a $3.3 million bail.
Masterson did not enter into a plea. However, Tom Mesereau, a member of his legal counsel, declared the charges filed against Masterson by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey are based on events that took place nearly 20 years ago, and further claimed they were applied out of pressure to prosecute Masterson as Lacey faces an election, as well as the result of unfair hype from media outlets.
“There have been repeated attempts to politicize this case,” said Mesereau, who also represented Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson in their sexual misconduct cases. “He is absolutely not guilty and we’re going to prove it.”
Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller called the statements “pure speculation, with no basis in fact.”
Mesereau spoke as the judge was considering requests to allow media cameras in court, which he approved.
Mesereau argued that the media presence would be unfairly prejudicial to Masterson and taint potential jurors.
“We want to do anything we can to tone down the cameras and the circus-like atmosphere that have pervaded this case,” the attorney said. “We’re just trying to protect his rights.”
Superior Court Judge Miguel T. Espinoza also denied a request from the defense for a protective order sealing case files and preventing police, prosecutors and potential witnesses from revealing case information to the media, but said he would reconsider similar request later.
The defense has filed documents asking the criminal complaint against Masterson be thrown out as insufficient. A hearing on the issue will be held before Masterson is asked to enter a plea.
Masterson’s arrest came after a three-year investigation that resulted in the rare prosecution of a famous Hollywood figure in the #MeToo era. Despite dozens of investigations, most have led to no charges based on lack of evidence or too much time passing.
About 20 friends and supporters accompanied Masterson to court, standing in the courthouse hall with him as he awaited the hearing, but only a few were allowed inside the courtroom because of coronavirus distancing requirements.
He spoke only to answer “yes” to the judge’s questions.
Masterson is charged with three counts of rape by force or fear. Prosecutors allege that he raped a 23-year-old woman sometime in 2001, a 28-year-old woman in April of 2003, and a 23-year-old woman between October and December of 2003. Prosecutors said all of the alleged attacks happened in his home.
The women, who are not named in the charging documents, said in a statement through their attorneys when Masterson was arrested that they had suffered “harassment, embarrassment and re-victimization” since they began cooperating with authorities and that they are “thankful that the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office is finally seeking criminal justice.”
Masterson told the Huffington Post at the time: “I am obviously very disappointed in Netflix’s decision to write my character off of ‘The Ranch.’ From day one, I have denied the outrageous allegations against me. I have never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one.”
The statement continued: “In this country, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, in the current climate, it seems as if you are presumed guilty the moment you are accused. I understand and look forward to clearing my name once and for all.”
If convicted, Masterson could face up to 45 years in prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this report