The Phil Spector Trial: Shaping Up To Be An L.A. Noir Classic (and a First Amendment outrage – but whatever)
[posted by Justin Levine]
It has many of the great L.A. noir elements: Has-beens trying to hang on to their former lives, hangers-on trying to define themselves by the company they keep, people on society’s fringes reaping heartache by praying to the false gods of Hollywood sex, fame & fortune. Tragic, sympathetic and lonely figures hoping somehow that the chimerical, empty promises of this town will manage to fill the void – failing to grasp before its too late that they never do.
The entry of Hollywood Madam Jodi “Babydol” Gibson has added even more to the spice.
As the L.A. Weekly’s Steven Mikulan reports:
Gibson and lawyer Sam Weiss were commanded to the bar, whereupon they both asked the judge to allow Gibson to freely promote her book, Secrets of a Hollywood Super Madam, along with a sequel, now that it appears highly unlikely that she will be called to testify. Fidler, however, warned Gibson that, while she is free to publicize her book, she cannot refer to its allusions to Lana Clarkson being employed as a call girl; nor even to the trial itself, nor discuss her famous little black book that purportedly shows Clarkson’s name. (The entry is suspected of being a forgery and is currently in custody at the Sheriff’s crime lab.)
Fidler based his ruling on the remote possibility that Phil Spector might testify, which could possibly cause Gibson to be brought to the witness stand. Babydol gagged could very likely be joined by criminalist Dr. Henry Lee and the self-proclaimed son of Raul Julia, the alleged actor “Raul Julia Levy,” as colorful no-shows on the defense’s witness list, thanks to various Fidler rulings, further taking much of the circus excitement out of this spectacle. In the end, Babydol, every ounce the businesswoman, walked out of the courtroom with a truckload of free publicity.
Two notes here – one legal, another social.
One [The legal note]: I continue to maintain that any court orders barring Gibson from talking about her assertions that Lana Clarkson was an associate of hers, her “little black book”, or even the overall trial itself is an unconstitutional prior restraint of free speech. I am of the (perhaps minority) view that even if it could be shown that such speech would likely impact the trial proceedings, courts should have no authority to stop it ahead of time. But in a case such as this one, where it is extremely speculative as to if Spector will even testify, what exactly he might testify about, or whether or not his testimony might have something to do with Gibson whose own appearance and testimony would be largely speculative at this point, it just makes no sense for a court to use the coercive powers of government to tell an individual that they are not allowed to speak about certain topics.
But then again, I have always been a skeptic about the notion that publicity outside of court testimony can somehow taint or prejudice a trial in such a way that can’t be overcome by attorneys simply explaining things to a jury and letting them make up their own minds. Once again, I’m sure I hold the minority view here, especially within the “legal community” – but there you have it.
Two [The social note]: In all of the publicity covering the “Babydol” Gibson angle to the Spector trial, I have yet to find anyone who has mentioned the curious fact that she was once defended by attorney Gerald Scotti on charges that she ran a prostitution ring. I briefly covered the “Babydol” Gibson prostitution case for the Beverly Hills Weekly years ago (Gibson reportedly had a large list of clients in the Beverly Hills area). I attended a pre-trail hearing to try and suppress evidence. Both Scotti and Gibson were present. I distinctively recall Gibson trying to privately explain something to Scotti, to which he dismissively retorted “You need to be quiet and listen to your attorney.” Since I couldn’t quite make out what Gibson said to him at the time, maybe he was right, maybe not. In any event, Gibson was convicted and did some hard time in the slammer.
As an extra side note that has gone unnoticed in the rest of the media, the judge in the Spector case (Larry Fidler) happens to be well acquainted with Gibson (in a strictly professional sense, mind you). After all, Fidler was the one who upheld her jail sentence as an Appellate judge.
Writing on assignment for Div. Three, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler detailed the story of undercover officers posing as prospective prostitutes and clients of Gibson’s agency, known as California Dreamin’.
In discussing an encounter between prostitute Lianne Doversola and Kertenian at the Century Plaza Hotel, Fidler noted that Doversola “had the detective remove all of his clothes”—-and added, in a footnote, that “Kertenian had been given permission by LAPD to do this.”
As for the contentions on appeal, Fidler criticized prosecutors for “careless pleading” in failing to include in the information the portion of the Penal Code dealing with solicitation. Still, the judge said, solicitation was brought up at the end of the preliminary hearing, and that was sufficient to give Gibson notice of that charge against her.
He also rejected assertions that the three-year sentence was cruel and unusual, given the fact that prostitutes get much shorter sentences.
“[T]he record reveals [Gibson] to be a sophisticated, experienced madam, with a business that reaches across the United States and was attempting to expand internationally,” Filder said. “Her illegal and high-priced business affected many people. In addition, she was not above making threats to ensure she received her share of the proceeds of the prostitution enterprise she conducted. [Gibson’s] sentence is not grossly disproportionate to her culpability.”
[Perhaps this past history with Gibson's case factored into Felder's decision to impose a gag order on her? I suspect he wasn't thrilled to learn that she is trying to pimp a book based on criminal activity that he had a hand in sentencing her for.]
All of this isn’t necessarily relevant to the underlying substance of the Spector trial mind you, but it fits nicely with the L.A. noir narrative as a side plot. You see, despite his wealth, happy veneer and noted success as top defense attorney, Scotti still ended up whipping out a .38, murdering a paralegal, then blowing his own brains out right in front of the eyes of another attorney because of money (presumably in addition to Scotti’s own personal struggles with other undefined inner-demons).
So after having her defense attorney kill an associate and blow his brains out, Gibson again finds herself on the fringes of another shooting in the City of Angeles. This provides strong evidence to my theory that we all have a certain karma that has a tendency to always attract particular elements to us in life. Try as we may, we can’t escape our destinies. And that my friends, is the central sublime tragedy behind the noir genre.
[posted by Justin Levine]