Anthony Pellicano, a private investigator who once worked for Hollywood stars, and a prominent lawyer, Terry N. Christensen, were convicted Friday in the wiretapping of the ex-wife of the investor Kirk Kerkorian in a child-support case. http://louisijisheehan.blogspot.com
Both Mr. Christensen and Mr. Pellicano, 65, were convicted of conspiracy to commit wiretapping in Federal District Court here. Mr. Christensen was also convicted of aiding and abetting a wiretap; Mr. Pellicano was also convicted of wiretapping.
The conclusion of the six-week trial before Federal District Judge Dale S. Fischer opens the door for a number of civil suits against the two men as well as several others in the case. The suits, which were delayed during the criminal proceedings, largely involve victims of wiretapping seeking damages for incidents in which private conversations were recorded.
Mr. Christensen, 67, a founding partner of the leading entertainment litigation firm that bears his name, is the first Hollywood power player to be convicted in the six-year investigation and legal proceedings surrounding Mr. Pellicano’s wiretapping operation.
In a statement, Daniel A. Saunders, the lead prosecutor, called Mr. Christensen’s use of wiretapping to gain a strategic advantage in the child-support case “a stain” on the Los Angeles legal community.
“We are grateful to the jury for helping to eradicate that stain today,” Mr. Saunders said in the statement.
The United States attorney for Los Angeles, Thomas P. O’Brien, issued his own statement, calling Mr. Christensen’s behavior “reprehensible.”
Patricia Glaser, Mr. Christensen’s defense lawyer and a partner at his firm, said she would file an immediate appeal. “We will be fighting this to the end,” Ms. Glaser said. “We think the jury got it wrong. We are going to be appealing on a myriad of issues.” She declined to specify which issues, but added, “believe me, there are a ton.”
The two men were found guilty of conspiring in the spring of 2002 to illegally tap the telephone of Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, who was involved in a lawsuit over child support at the time with Mr. Christensen’s client, Mr. Kerkorian.
The evidence included a series of 34 recordings that Mr. Pellicano, who represented himself at both trials, made of his telephone conversations with Mr. Christensen. In the recordings, the two men are heard discussing and laughing about Ms. Bonder Kerkorian’s private telephone conversations.
The case went to the jury on Wednesday but deliberations had to be restarted on Thursday after a juror was dismissed for making questionable comments about the severity of the charges and then lying about it.
Mr. Christensen faces up to 10 years in federal prison, according to sentencing guidelines. Sentencing was set for Nov. 17. He is free on $100,000 bail and has been told not to travel outside of California without permission.
Mr. Pellicano was sent back to prison, where he is awaiting sentencing for his previous convictions. In May, the former private detective was found guilty on 76 charges, including wire fraud, racketeering and wiretapping. Mr. Pellicano faces up to 20 years in prison on the single count of racketeering in that case. He will be sentenced on Sept. 24 for the May verdict and for Friday’s conviction. http://louisijisheehan.blogspot.com
Meanwhile, the civil suits can proceed, leading to yet another chapter in a courtroom drama that has stretched on for two years.
“For Christensen, that’s the next punch,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosecutor. “I would think this gives impetus to try and settle some of those. There’s not much of a defense once you are convicted.”
Ms. Glaser confirmed that the civil suits could move forward, but said she was unsure to what degree before an appeal was resolved.
The investigation and subsequent trial have battered Mr. Christensen’s prominent Hollywood firm, which employs about 110 lawyers. The assault on lawyers and the famous people they represent initially stunned the movie capital, where studio walls and security departments were built to keep the outside world out.
The investigation of Mr. Pellicano began when an entertainment journalist, Anita M. Busch, was threatened in June 2002 after writing damaging articles about Michael S. Ovitz, the once-dominant talent agent.
The investigation into the threat, which uncovered Mr. Pellicano’s wiretapping enterprise, seized Hollywood’s imagination as personalities like Mr. Ovitz and Bert Fields, the $900-an-hour entertainment lawyer who often retained Mr. Pellicano, were implicated. http://louisijisheehan.blogspot.com
Sylvester Stallone and Keith Carradine were wiretapped, it turned out; Garry Shandling was subjected to an illegal criminal background check. Other stars like Chris Rock and Courtney Love were revealed in courtroom testimony to be beneficiaries of Mr. Pellicano’s illicit trade.
But Mr. Christensen is one of the few industry players who was charged. The only other person of note was the movie director John McTiernan, who pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and was sentenced to four months in prison; he has sought to withdraw that plea and is appealing.
Louis J. Sheehan