Hollywood P.I. Pellicano has a fool for a lawyer

Fri Mar 14, 2008 3:51am EDT
 
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By Matthew Belloni

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter, ESQ.) - Russian roulette. Speeding the wrong way on the freeway. Frequenting prostitutes while serving as the crime-fighting governor of New York.

These are all colossally stupid activities . . . and each is smarter than serving as your own lawyer in a federal racketeering and wiretapping trial. Yet here we are, two weeks into a case that could send Anthony Pellicano, Hollywood's most well-connected sleuth, to jail for life, and you continue to represent yourself.

Why, Anthony? If you're broke, why not let one of the many attorneys whose cases you assisted over the years step in and mount a decent defense? Pride is understandable, especially from a guy who built his reputation on unwavering loyalty and whose computer passwords were variations of "omerta" (Sicilian for a code of silence). But there are plenty of competent attorneys who would gladly offer you their services in exchange for the value of the publicity surrounding your trial, and Judge Dale Fischer practically begged you to accept a public defender as an alternative.

Almost anything would be better than your rambling cross-examinations of the Feds who retrieved incriminating information from your computers. Or that awkward, 10-minute opening statement in which you struggled to refer to yourself in the third person and stated tautologically that "The evidence will show what it shows." Is it a stretch to suggest a seasoned criminal defense attorney could have come up with something better?

"He wasn't going to have his friends suffer through a trial and not get paid," says Steven Gruel, the San Francisco-based lawyer who's known you since 1996 and represented you until being asked to step aside earlier this year. "He puts friendship and honor above his own personal welfare."

That's for sure. For a guy who is poised to take the fall for an entire industry's obsession with competitive advantage at any cost, it's as if you've accepted your fate, as though the case is so unwinnable you might as well sacrifice yourself on an altar of pseudo-rectitude and discretion. Of course, you probably believe you're as qualified as anyone to mount an effective defense. By all accounts you're incredibly smart, and you've sat for two years in the Federal Detention Center in downtown L.A. with little to do but prepare for battle. Plus, you've testified as an expert witness in enough trials to know the nuances of forensics and how to question a witness effectively.

But even the most experienced lawyer knows better than to serve as his own advocate. "No sane person does it," says another attorney who's worked with you. The absence of faith in anyone but yourself is exactly the kind of dangerous hubris that led you to record yourself bragging to baseball slugger Matt Williams about your ability to wiretap phones. Now those recordings are being played in open court, your former assistant is discussing in rich detail how she listened to private attorney-client conversations at your direction and prosecutors say they can show that your services commanded big bucks -- including $75,000 from former CAA president Michael Ovitz just to deal with nosy reporter (and former Hollywood Reporter editor) Anita Busch.

It doesn't look good, Anthony. The secrets are out. The industry that enabled your unique and successful enterprise has turned its back on you like an aging starlet. What you need is a skilled advocate to make your final stand. And that person isn't you.

(Belloni, the editor of the Hollywood Reporter, ESQ. blog, was formerly a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles.)

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter