And very likely not the last: “A grand jury indicted prominent Hollywood attorney Terry Christensen on Wednesday for allegedly hiring investigator Anthony Pellicano to wiretap Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, the ex-wife of billionaire and former MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian. Christensen is accused of paying Pellicano at least $100,000 to illegally eavesdrop on Bonder Kerkorian’s conversations with her attorney, a court mediator and others to gain a tactical advantage in a legal dispute.” Christensen’s firm, Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro of Century City, vigorously denied the allegations. (Jesse Hiestand, “Lawyer indicted in Pellicano case”, Hollywood Reporter, Feb. 16; Greg Krikorian and Andrew Blankstein, “Entertainment Lawyer Indicted in Pellicano Probe”, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 15). For our earlier coverage, see Feb. 7, etc.
Following a three-year FBI investigation (see Nov. 11, 2003), Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano pleaded not guilty to a 110-count federal indictment (PDF) unsealed Monday. “Pellicano, 61, is charged with organizing and masterminding a corrupt enterprise that allegedly wiretapped phones, entered private computers without authorization, committed wire fraud, bribery, identity theft and obstruction of justice.” Targets of his illegal snooping are said to include celebrities Sylvester Stallone and Garry Shandling and New York Times reporter Bernard Weinraub. (Andrew Blankstein and Greg Krikorian, “Pellicano Indicted on Racketeering Charges”, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 6; Roger Friedman, “Cruise, Jacko Lawyer Safe for Now”, Feb. 6; AP/Hollywood Reporter).
The FBI originally got on Pellicano’s trial following a bizarre 2002 incident in which a dead fish, a rose and a note that said “stop” were left on the car window of Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Busch, who was working on a story about actor Steven Seagal at the time. What has sent nervous ripples through Hollywood’s legal community is that Pellicano has worked for many prominent entertainment-industry lawyers, and prosecutors are highly interested in finding out how much they knew about his alleged tactics.
Several veteran Los Angeles lawyers who specialize in defending white-collar crime suspects said they had been retained by other attorneys who are under scrutiny in the Pellicano case.
The lawyers all spoke on condition that they not be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, including the possibility that some of their clients could be indicted.
Some of them said they thought it highly likely that attorneys would be indicted in the near future.
Asked how serious the government was about indicting certain attorneys, one defense lawyer said: “Beyond serious.”
Added the lawyer: “That dead fish led to a treasure trove of stuff.”
(Greg Krikorian, Henry Weinstein and Chuck Philips, “Private Eye May Be Tried Again”, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 3). More: Defamer; Luke Ford; Robert W. Welkos, “Lawyer to Celebrities Is Subject of Inquiry”, L.A. Times, Feb. 7 (many persons whose privacy was allegedly infringed were on the other side of lawsuits from celebrity lawyer Bertram Fields, Pellicano’s most prominent lawyer-client); Kellie Schmitt and Justin Scheck, “Hollywood PI Pleads Not Guilty to Racketeering”, The Recorder, Feb. 7.
- “The Boston Public Health Commission has just banned the sale of all tobacco products at colleges. Not high schools. Colleges.” [Saletan, Slate]
- Sometimes the case caption seems to tell a little story all by itself [Lorraine Hodges v. Mt. Zion Temple d/b/a Zero Gravity Skatepark Oakland County, Mich., 12/1/2008 08-096435 NI Chabot (Pontiac), slip-fall on snow and ice]
- Consumer complaint site Ripoff Report is magnet for lawsuits [Citizen Media Law, Eric Goldman and again]
- EEOC hearing on English-in-the-workplace issues [Clegg, NRO “Corner”]
- Wiretapper Anthony Pellicano, helpful gnome behind the scenes for many powerful Hollywood lawyers, sentenced to 15 years behind bars [CNN, Patterico]
- “Hungary’s Constitutional Court says it has annulled a law giving rights to domestic partners because it would diminish the importance of marriage”; now just watch how many folks on both sides flip their opinion of judicial activism [AP/WHEC]
- No teaser rates for you! Harvard’s Elizabeth Warren wants new law empowering federal government to order withdrawal of “too-risky” consumer credit products [Consumer Law & Policy]
- Major new study of defensive medicine, conservatively estimated to waste $1.4 billion in Massachusetts alone [KevinMD, Boston Globe; Massachusetts Medical Society]
- Businesswoman takes to her blog to criticize the business practices of a video-production firm, and then the lawsuit arrives [Inc. magazine via MediaBloggers; Vision Media Television v. Leslie Richard/Oko Box]
- Litigious Minneapolis strip club owner “sued a one-time housemate for, among other things, not returning some pillows and a coat rack.” [Star-Tribune via Obscure Store]
- Really now, says judge to Coughlin Stoia class-actioneers, $1,365.95/night in travel expenses is a bit rich in this Coke settlement [Krauss, PoL]
- L.A. attorney Terry Christensen sentenced to three years in Pellicano wiretap scandal [AP/Variety] Did L.A. Times skew coverage toward Pellicano defense? [Patterico, more]
- New Louisiana lawyer-ad rules: would they restrain lawyers from blogging or posting on Facebook/Twitter? [Coleman, Ribstein vs. O’Keefe vs. Greenfield]
- Electing public defenders is bad idea to start with, and things get particularly dicey when the local cops throw their support to one candidate [Balko, Reason “Hit and Run”; Jacksonville, Fla.]
- Online carpooling service? Great idea until the bus authorities get you closed down [Save PickUpPal in Ontario via Coyote; Canada]
- Horizon Blue Cross agrees to settle suit over coverage of eating disorders, will pay $1.18 million to some policyholders to cover extended bulimia and anorexia treatments, and $2.45 million to class action lawyers led by Bruce Nagel of Roseland, N.J. [NJLJ]
The upcoming trial of Los Angeles attorney Terry Christiansen, charged with knowingly paying Anthony Pellicano to wiretap adversaries, is already focusing overdue attention on lawyers’ methods of working with the shadowy private investigators they often hire. Ethics rules supposedly make them responsible for the conduct of those hired snoops, but it seems winks and meaningful silences have often passed for adequate oversight:
“It was very common for a lawyer to say, ‘Just find it,'” said Jimmie Mesis, editor-in-chief of PI Magazine, a trade magazine for private investigators, and public relations chairman for the National Council of Investigation and Security Services in Baltimore. “They really didn’t care what [investigators] did, whether [it was] garbage dumpster diving or pretexting. It was just a statement of: ‘Just do what you have to do to get it.'”
(Amanda Bronstad, “Christensen Case a ‘Wake-Up’ Call for Lawyers on Use of Private Eyes”, National Law Journal, Jul. 11).
- Polar bears on parade: “Lawsuits are not the best way to force the public into solving planet-size problems such as climate change.” [Christian Science Monitor editorial]
- Jury convicts private investigator Anthony Pellicano, trial of entertainment lawyer Terry Christiansen set for July [Variety; earlier]
- Knockoff sneakers differed from Adidas original in having two or four stripes instead of three, didn’t save Payless Shoes from getting hit with $304 million verdict [American Lawyer]
- Following up on our discussion of municipal tree liability: Michigan high court OKs homeowner class action over sewer line damage from city trees [AP/MLive]
- Attorney Franklin Azar, of Colorado TV-ad fame, says jury’s verdict ordering him to pay a former client $145,000 was really a “big victory” for him [ABA Journal]
- Annals of tolling-for-infancy: “Dog bite 10 years ago subject of civil suit” [MC Record]
- Feds indict Missouri woman for cruel MySpace hoax that drove victim to suicide: Orin Kerr finds legal grounds weak [@ Volokh]
- “I blame R. Kelly for Sept. 11”: some ways potential jurors managed to get off singer’s high-profile Chicago trial [Tribune; h/t reader A.K.]
- Update: “click fraud” class actions filed in Texarkana against online ad providers have all now settled [SE Texas Record; earlier]
- Judge orders dad to stay on top of his daughter’s education, then jails him for 180 days when she fails to get her general equivalency diploma [WCPO, Cincinnati; update, father released]
- Lawyers still soliciting for AOL volunteer class actions [Colossus of Rhodey; earlier]
The Anthony Pellicano wiretap scandal grinds on: Per a new report in the New York Times, attorney Terry Christiansen was happy to feed investor Kirk Kerkorian information obtained by Pellicano’s wiretaps on Kerkorian’s ex-wife, though no one has charged the investor with knowing about the taps. A lawyer for Christiansen terms the report “totally unfounded” and “a pack of lies”. (David M. Halbfinger and Allison Hope Weiner, “Lawyer Gave Information to Kerkorian”, Jan. 10).
Not entirely unrelatedly, a front-page report in the Wall Street Journal last month takes note that “Hewlett-Packard Co.’s much-criticized campaign this year to trace boardroom leaks has made ‘pretexting’ a dirty word in corporate circles. But the H-P project was far from the first to rely on pretexting, which generally involves impersonating people to get their phone or financial records, a review of recent business history shows. The practice for years has been almost a commonplace tool, resorted to in efforts ranging from commercial litigation to divorce fights to the search for deadbeat borrowers.” (John R. Emshwiller, “Hewlett-Packard Was Far From First To Try ‘Pretexting'”, Dec. 16). Hmmm… which profession is it that regularly gets involved in commercial litigation, divorce fights, and the search for deadbeat borrowers? Former HP general counsel Ann Baskins resigned after her role in failing to prevent the pretexting scandal came to light. How much company would Baskins have if the legal profession suddenly got serious about ‘fessing up to the practice? (Paul McNamara, “A deep look at the role HP’s top lawyer played in spy scandal”, Network World, Dec. 21; Sue Reisinger, “Did Ann Baskins See No Evil at HP?”, Corporate Counsel, Dec. 18).
The recent decision by News Corp. publishing subsidiary HarperCollins to cancel the publication of O.J. Simpson’s no-tell tell-all If I Did It is generating ripple upon ripple of actual and threatened litigation. Last Friday, Dec. 15, News Corp. summarily fired Judith Regan, who made the Simpson deal and who would have published the book under her Regan Books imprint. Notwithstanding her personal responsibility for one of the great debacles of contemporary media, Regan maintains she is the wronged party in the firing and has hired high-profile Hollywood lawyer Bert Fields to take on her former employers.
The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 18 – article is available to non-subscribers) reported yesterday:
But Ms. Regan is fighting back, hiring well-known Hollywood litigator Bert Fields. ‘They’ve chosen war and they will get exactly that,’ said Mr. Fields in an interview. ‘She won’t take this lying down.’
Mr. Fields said HarperCollins had used guards to lock down Ms. Regan’s office and had also impounded her personal belongings. ‘We’ll take appropriate action for everything HarperCollins has done,’ added Mr. Fields. ‘They chose this path and I hope they remember it.’ A HarperCollins spokesman said that Ms. Regan collected her personal belongings before leaving her office in Los Angeles and that her office in New York wasn’t locked and that her belongings weren’t impounded.
* * *
[T]his past week, tensions flared, although details are still sketchy. One scenario has it that Ms. Regan made some intemperate remarks to a HarperCollins attorney on Friday afternoon, causing Ms. Friedman to fire her. The termination was executed with none of the usual corporate pleasantries about "pursuing other opportunities" and long years of service.
In an intriguing sidelight, the WSJ‘s Law Blog (Dec. 18) reports that attorney Fields is, or fancies himself, a Shakespeare scholar and has had two books published on Shakespearean subjects . . . through the Regan Books imprint. (Oh no, no potential conflicts of interest there; let’s just move along.)
Fields is perhaps best known as the bane of the Walt Disney Company: he represented Jeffrey Katzenberg in the now-settled litigation arising from Katzenberg’s departure from the company, he was consulted by the Weinstein brothers of Miramax when their relationship with Disney cooled, and he has featured prominently in the seemingly never-ending dispute over the rights to Winnie the Pooh. He has also been a subject of interest, but has not been the object of any criminal charges, in the investigations surrounding wiretapping and other alleged misdeeds by "private investigator to the stars" Anthony Pellicano.
News Corp., in preparing to respond to Regan’s and Fields’ accusations, has taken the unusual step of disclosing the content of otherwise confidential notes taken by one of its own attorneys. Those notes purport to reveal anti-Semitic remarks made by Regan and claimed by News Corp. to have been the "last straw" leading to Regan’s firing. (See New York Times, Dec. 19).
Meanwhile, ABC News (Dec. 18, via the publishing weblog GalleyCat) reports that Regan and others at Regan Books, HarperCollins and News Corp. will likely either be named as defendants or at the very least have their depositions taken on behalf of the heirs of Ronald Goldman, who continue to attempt to collect on their civil wrongful death judgment against Simpson. The Goldman family sees the entire transaction as a further attempt to hide Simpson’s assets:
The lawsuit would likely be based on the legal premise of ‘fraudulent transfer,’ which in this case would contend that News Corp. executives knowingly conspired to assist Simpson in subverting a civil judgment against him.
And so the saga continues, with only the lawyers — and Simpson — seeming to gain from it.
UPDATE: The Smoking Gun (Dec. 19) has posted a copy of the Goldman lawsuit, to be filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles and naming as defendants Simpson and Lorraine Brooke Associates, a corporation created (per the Complaint) to “warehouse Simpson’s intellectual property rights” and to serve as a conduit through which proceeds of those rights might be funneled to evade the Goldman judgment.
In the New Yorker, Ken Auletta profiles entertainment lawyer Bertram Fields, whose name has turned up regularly in the Anthony Pellicano scandal and whom Auletta dubs the “most feared lawyer in Hollywood”. A snippet (via Lattman): “his pugnacity frightens opponents. One Fields client says, ‘If he’s on the other side, he’s a nightmare. He going to make your life miserable. Someone who actually enjoys beating people up, there’s something wrong with them. But when you hire a litigator you want a p***k.'”
“Robert Musil” marvels at the apparent untouchability of a key witness in the Anthony Pellicano wiretap case (Jun. 13) . At Volokh Conspiracy, Jonathan Adler skeptically examines a tendentious piece in Scientific American which claims that the Supreme Court’s pending decisions on two wetlands cases, Rapanos and Carabell, imperil the survival of the Florida Everglades (Jun. 13). The trial of journalist Oriana Fallaci, on charges of “insulting Islam” (see Jun. 11, 2005), has begun in an Italian courtroom; among the many giving it coverage are Dave Zincavage, Michelle Malkin and Howard M. Friedman. And Tyler Cowen expounds his opinions on the “net neutrality” issue here.