Patterico's Pontifications


The Phil Spector Trial: Shaping Up To Be An L.A. Noir Classic (and a First Amendment outrage – but whatever)

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Constitutional Law,Crime,Current Events — Justin Levine @ 2:57 pm

[posted by Justin Levine]

It may not be nearly as epic in scope as the O.J. Simpson trial, but as a huge fan of L.A. noir, I think the Phil Spector trial is one of the most interesting to come along in quite some time.

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]

30 Responses to “The Phil Spector Trial: Shaping Up To Be An L.A. Noir Classic (and a First Amendment outrage – but whatever)”

  1. The collapse of aging narcissists is never pretty. There’ll be more of them (e.g. Keith Richards: “I snorted my father.”) as aging stars look for the attention they’re so used to. Some turn to politics, others turn elsewhere.

    Not all of them, tho. A few have adapted quite well and perhaps that’s because their own self-absorption was just a game all along and not pathological.

    But then there’s the Spectors, too … talented musically but never quite right in the head. Character is destiny.

    ras (adf382)

  2. James Ellroy could have written this.

    Robin Roberts (6c18fd)

  3. Whoa.

    Speaking of trials, Mark Steyn makes a damning critique of the American justice system in general and prosecutors specifically.

    What do you say, Patterico?

    I think he’s right.

    (Hi Justin.)

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  4. Joe Bob Briggs wrote a largely sympathetic obituary of Lana Clarkson for Slate magazine that is good background reading for those– like me– fascinated by this sort of thing.

    craig mclaughlin (fde67c)

  5. Actually Briggs wrote two obits– one for Slate and one that appears on his website. The one on his website is the better and more detailed of the two.

    craig mclaughlin (fde67c)

  6. Cristoph,

    I think it’s moronic.

    To take but one example: how high a tax rate are you willing to subject yourself to so that every criminal defendant in the country gets a trial?

    I also love it when people use language like the government “stuck him” with one charge — how? he pled? a jury convicted him? — and “ruined his life.” Well, if he was innocent, they did. If he was guilty, he did it to himself.

    And if you commit 14 crimes, I’m charging you with 14 counts. Whether Mark Steyn likes it or not. Don’t like having 14 charges against you? Don’t commit 14 crimes.

    What a bunch of soft-headed nonsense that piece is.

    Patterico (f6eb48)

  7. Well, I respect your opinion.

    However, other countries manage trials, for example, by not defining every free action as a crime or locking people up indefinitely.

    Drug use, for example.

    There’s a savings of billions of dollars right there.

    I prefer my prosecutions be for rape and murder, not smokin’ bud.

    In principle.

    (Unless you’re driving, then you’re jeopardizing other people.)

    Hey, why don’t you get Michelle to invite Mark and yourself to debate the point(s) in dueling Hot Air blog posts?

    That would be rad, and I think you’d both enjoy it.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  8. Well, I respect your opinion.
    However, other countries manage trials, for example, by not defining every free action as a crime or locking people up indefinitely.

    So do we.

    Drug use, for example.
    There’s a savings of billions of dollars right there.
    I prefer my prosecutions be for rape and murder, not smokin’ bud.

    We spend billions incarcerating people for smoking bud??

    In principle.
    (Unless you’re driving, then you’re jeopardizing other people.)
    Hey, why don’t you get Michelle to invite Mark and yourself to debate the point(s) in dueling Hot Air blog posts?

    Mmmm, based on his article, I wouldn’t expect him to be reasonable and doubt I’d enjoy it.

    Patterico (1691f0)

  9. Excellent, noirish post.

    Does Anthony Villar by chance have any connection to Babydol, or any of the other hangers on? That would be quite delicious!

    Patricia (824fa1)

  10. “We spend billions incarcerating people for smoking bud??”

    No, and I knew you’d catch that. I mean the whole failed unworkable war on drugs and all the people incarcerated for it.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  11. Most people who denounce drug laws are far too glib about it, and far too dismissive of the consequences of decriminalization. Try visiting a neighborhood ravaged by crack dealers and see how you feel then.

    Of course, it would be Shangri-La if we just legalized crack and sold it over the counter. Right?

    Patterico (d2e00f)

  12. Patterico, I have lived on the streets of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, one of the most drug ridden neighbourhoods in North America, and the worst parts of that neighbourhood, and I have also slept beside addicts on the floor in shelters who woke up to piss in the middle of the night, to fight, and sometimes to die metres away.

    I have walked by acres of blighted neighbourhoods day and night.

    I remember being young and homeless, but still optimistic.

    Back then, I smoked.

    I walked to the store and a lady with her face in sores, arms covered with track marks, and teeth falling out, but with the sweetest voice you ever heard, legitimately nice, she asked me, “Sir, would you like a really excellent blow job for six dollars?”

    At that time I was so ignorant I thought she must want cigarrettes because they they cost around $6 a pack. I declined the offer.

    After I bought my smokes, I gave her a couple.

    Later, I learned of course she must have had $4 and change in her pocket and wanted another $6 so she could buy a rock of crack.

    And then I learned a whole lot more.

    I often slept in parks and woke up with these people, sometimes to go to look for a job and later to go to one. Then two jobs. While living on the street amidst crack and heroin addicts.

    I hate the destructive power of those drugs. I’ve gone to one friend’s funeral and seen a girl whom I loved dearly destroy herself with them over the years.

    She had been raped at 11 and the criminal justice system, possibly partly due to lack of resources, pled it out to 60 community hours plus time served.

    She eventually gave birth to a methadone addicted baby. When she was 18, even though I knew I was most likely being scammed, I gave her $60 for baby formula and a present and never heard from her for five years.

    At 23 (her age) she saw me on the street and said hi. I didn’t recognize her until she said her name.

    Broken black teeth, track marks, risible stench… and naturally she lost interest in me very quickly when she drank the orange juice I bought her at the corner store, but no money and no “business” would be coming her way.

    Don’t you tell me I am glib about the consequences of decriminalization.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  13. Fair enough. I won’t put you in the glib category. But plenty are.

    Reasonable people can disagree about this. But some act as though decriminalization would be a cure-all. In truth, I suspect it would lead to more addicts of rhe sort you poignantly describe. Britain’s experience with marijuana has shown that it can, as I have posted before.

    Patterico (f0e372)

  14. “But some act as though decriminalization would be a cure-all.”

    It wouldn’t be a cure-all. But at least it would take government out of these evil acts. Evil belongs in private life and shouldn’t be a practice of government.

    Taking away someone’s freedom because of a voluntary transaction is immoral.

    It’s likewise immoral to seduce someone to do drugs. Just like increased education is causing smoking rates to plummet across the developed world, so too does it reduce drug epidemics over time.

    And it’s not like the war on drugs is stopping drug use. All of the activity I described above was illegal.

    But the sin is its own punishment. I won’t take away someone’s liberty for destroying themselves.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  15. Soon to be an Elvis Cole mystery, with the real killer being the same guy who killed Nicole.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  16. So, who should write the novel?

    BTW, I have to second what Christoph says. While I never quite took it as far as he did, it was only a matter of “yet” when I stopped in ’88. A lot of people who know EXACTLY what this crap does to people also know that the drug laws don’t help much. Maybe some, maybe not.

    I will point out that AA was founded by people who stayed drunk throughout Prohibition, then got sober after it became legal. One of their first decisions was that AA had no opinion whatsoever on the alcohol laws. If legalizing a substance won’t lead to Nirvana, neither does it lead to eternal damnation.

    Can you, Patrick look me in the eye and tell me that you are sure that the drug laws are a net gain? The argument that drug arrests stop other crimes begs the question of whether arrests for those other crimes would remain zero if all the effort wasn’t going into drug laws.

    We’ve been fighting this war since Nixon, and we’re still losing badly. Maybe it’s time for another tactic. Education, taxes and intolerance have cut tobacco use to a fraction (hey, even I quit). Maybe some of that might work better here.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  17. I hope this post isn’t putting Phil Spector in the “has been” category. I’m sure he’s still talented, even if other things are standing in the way.

    TLB (0c89cb)

  18. “While I never quite took it as far as he did, it was only a matter of “yet” when I stopped in ‘88.”

    Thanks for your secondment, Kevin.

    For the record, I wasn’t using drugs. I was simply homeless. And I saw the drug use around me. While I had other issues to conquer, I determined that would not be one of them.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  19. patterico, you’re not making any sense. in comment #12, you suggest that decriminalization advocates are “glib” and that they should visit a neighborhood ravaged by crack dealers to see the consequences of what they wish for. uhh, dude, those crack dealers are criminals operating in a criminal milieu; the condition of their neighborhood is a consequence of current policy, not decriminalization. if crack were sold over the counter, it would cut those dealers off at the knees.

    you also speak negatively of decriminalizing marijuana and refer to the british experience. i haven’t been to england since 1970 so i can’t competently address that, but i can address the situation in southwest oregon, where anybody who wants marijuana can get it with little difficulty. people under 21 can get it much more easily than buying a beer. it isn’t a problem. alcohol and meth cause way more problems. we have much higher quality of life than you do in los angeles.

    justin levine equivocates on the first amendment implications of gagging babydol. the first amendment is what the supreme court says it is, and gag orders are routine; of much greater interest to me is the unique california law gagging jurors for a period of time after their service. i’ve spoken up for jurors here before, and i think it’s unconstitutional.

    assistant devil's advocate (23702e)

  20. It wouldn’t be a cure-all. But at least it would take government out of these evil acts.

    I was sympathetic until you tossed that one out.

    But thanks for the laugh.

    Do you know what types of drugs are the most commonly abused here in the US? Do you know the source? How about the primary payor?

    Then consider that a major source of the money used to buy street drugs comes from the illicit sale of prescription drugs.

    If you, or anyone else was truly serious about taking government out of these evil acts you’d have to scrap the entire medicaid system, plus a large chunk of the AFDC, and start all over again.

    Not that that’s a bad idea, just that it’s a bit unrealistic.

    ThomasD (9e8a29)

  21. Patterico, before you reject Christoph’s suggestion for a debate between you and Mark Steyn, I’d like to add a data point, namely that at least one person (me) who tends to be pro-prosecutor found that piece persuasive, and not a little frightening. Your response in the comment only tells me that you disagree, it doesn’t really give me an argument.

    I would really like to have an informed opinion on this subject, but I can’t do that until I hear both sides of the argument. So how about it? Or if not a debate, then at least a detailed response on your blog?

    Doc Rampage (ebfd7a)

  22. Doc R,

    What specific arguments did you find persuasive, and what facts (as opposed to rants) supported those arguments?

    Patterico (839968)

  23. Go and legalize drugs! But that is the job of the Legislature. It is the source of the drug laws. Don’t blame Patterico for doing the job given to him by the Legislature.

    I would favor a repeal of the drug laws if welfare was banned.

    Alta Bob (a8cb4f)

  24. Drugs destroy peoples’ lives regardless of whether the drugs are legal or illegal. The description of being homeless in the druggie neighborhood would not change if the drugs had been legal. Laws are to prevent people from harming each other, and in some cases to prevent people from harming themselves.

    Some may disagree with the latter type of law, but isn’t that equivalent to believing that society should just go ahead and say to people “sure, it’s fine to destroy your life. And we’ll take care of you when you’ve done it.”

    There is a line where society shouldn’t micromanage peoples’ lives, but in obvious cases such as drug abuse, society has the right to proscribe self destructive behavior and to protect itself from the collateral damage.

    Ken (245846)

  25. You mention Gerald Scotti … Ex-DEA agent and good attorney.
    To add to the Noir of your post … Scotti shared offices with noted Search and Seizure Handbook publisher Carl Capozzola.
    As I heard the story, a couple of years ago, one of Scotti’s law clerks was in to him for a loan of about $100K due to a gambling problem. Things went sour and Scotti shot and killed the clerk in the office and then killed himself.

    MOG (f57a20)

  26. Sorry, I failed to read the final few paragraphs.

    MOG (f57a20)

  27. Re: Steyn piece.

    You asked what someone found persuasive about the Steyn piece (and I am like that poster in that I am pro-law enforcement).

    Here are a couple of items:

    1. I find it disturbing that the government can sieze money and assets on suspicion, not conviction, of a crime.

    2. I find it disturbing that the expense of jury trials (see your comment) has to be bourne by the defendent, by making them serve a harsher punishment if they go through with one (as opposed to a plea).

    3. The extensive use of racketeering charges seems to go way beyond the original intent of those laws.

    4. I am torn on this one, but the Martha-Stweart-perjury-for-lying-about-a-crime-that-never-occurred doesn’t strike me as justice.

    Clark (c99ef1)

  28. “Don’t like having 14 charges against you? Don’t commit 14 crimes.”

    Fine, except that, having sat on more than one jury, I find that the “14 crimes” have, many times, been parsed out of a single act.

    Despite your assertation, I do find that Steyn has a valid point: far too often, this multiple count business is a form of gamesmanship.

    bud (46e4bf)

  29. “Stars” Over LA

    I think I’ve finally figured out what is wrong with my home town, Los Angeles. Most people complain that there are too many illegal aliens. I respectfully disagree. LA’s problem is too many celebrities.

    In a recent essay, I described the “crime spree” by socialite, Paris Hilton. Since she served her “hard time” in the LA County Jail, she has more or less kept a low profile-except of course for her appearance on the “Larry King on Life Support” show. Meanwhile, her pal, Nicole Ritchie, has just pleaded guily to DUI and been sentenced to a few days in “Sheriff to the Stars”, Lee Baca’s guest house. (It took me about three years to figure out who Paris Hilton was. Now I have to educate myself on Nicole Ritchie. I have no clue who she is, but she’s famous.)

    Then there is the latest “Trial of the Century”, the murder trial of music producer, Phil Spector. If you have a good memory, perhaps you recall the night four years ago, when he was arrested for the murder of actress, Lana Clarkson in his home. Well, the trial finally started, and Spector (or I should say his lawyer) is claiming that the lady shot herself in spite of the testimony of Spector’s driver that the producer came out of the house and said,”I think I’ve killed someone.”
    However, since the driver is Brazilian, the lawyer is trying to convince the jury that he doesn’t speak English well enough. Actually, Spector really said,”To know him is to love him.” Yeah, that’s the ticket. The foreigner just misunderstood.

    Remember Henry Lee, the hired-gun criminalist who helped OJ Simpson get off? Well, he has resurfaced, sort of. Lee has hired himself out to Spector’s defense team. During a defense inspection tour of the Spector home, Lee reportedly picked up something from the floor (speculated to be a piece of the victim’s fingernail), which has not been seen since. Lee recently went to China. Maybe he is still there. Maybe he will stay there rather than explain his actions in court.

    Meanwhile, LA’s mayor, Tony Villar, er….Villaraigosa, is continuing his PR tour of public appearances to show he is still involved in the day to day operation of the city. Yet, each time his honor dedicates a new manhole cover, the questions about his Telemundo reporter paramour, Mirthala Salinas, persist. In his latest declaration on the affair, Villaraigosa expressed his confidence that the internal Telemundo investigation would exonerate Salinas from any charges of unprofessional conduct!!??! OK, I guess, as they say, it’s time to move on.

    Meanwhile, Rocky Delgadillo, the City Attorney, continues to hang tough in spite of his scandals involving misappropriation of government vehicles and government employees for personal use. Rumors arose recently that City Councilman, Jack Weiss was poised to take over as City Attorney. Who is Jack Weiss, you ask? ……… You don’t want to know.

    So let’s move on to the mother of all current scandals-Lindsey Lohan. (I’m just learning who she is too-I don’t care much about Hollywood.) You know, back in 1966, I was going through US Army MP School at Ft Gordon, Ga. We had an instructor (a sergeant) who taught our traffic accident investigation courses. This guy should have been a stand up comedian because he kept us in stitches. His central theme centered around “Crash” Corrigan, a mythical driver who got into an accident every time he got behind the wheel. In one story, Granny Skaggs was driving to the store when she crossed an intersection and got creamed by “Crash” Corrigan on his way home from the hospital. I mention this because Ms Lohan’s misadventures behind the wheel bring back funny memories about Mr Corrigan.

    According to “reports”, Lohan was attending a Malibu party and invited a friend-who invited a couple of other friends-who were sitting in the car in the driveway because (according to the reports) that was as far as they could get to the house where all the “stars” were partying. Lohan, meanwhile, was reportedly getting pretty well oiled inside and proceeded to get into a shouting match with her “assistant” who promptly quit her assistantship and left the party. Lohan then, reportedly, (Hey-I don’t want to get sued.) commandeered the car where the friends of the friend were sitting and tore off down Pacific Coast Highway in pursuit of the ex-assistant at speeds of about 100 mph-according to the friends of the friend, who were still unwitting passengers. According to their testimony, they begged her to slow down, whereupon Lohan reportedly answered to the effect that she was a F……… celebrity and nothing was going to happen to her. Eventually losing her target in the chase, Lohan then proceeded to the assistant’s mother’s house, arriving just as the mother was arriving. Lohan behold, another high-speed chase ensued through the streets of Santa Monica, “Crash Corrigan” in hot pursuit of Granny Skaggs. Somewhere along the way, one of the terrified passengers, jumped out of the car only to get his foot run over by Lohan. Meanwhile, the terrified mother was on her cell phone to the police screaming for help. Finally, Lohan was cornered by Santa Monica Police in the parking lot of the Santa Monica Civic Center. At this point, the f………….celebrity told police that she wasn’t driving the car, that “it was the black guy” (one of the passengers). What’s more, police found a baggie of cocaine in her pants pocket, which Lohan still insists wasn’t hers. But, Lindsey, wasn’t the cocaine in your pants pocket? How is this for an ironclad alibi?— “I was wearing someone else’s pants!” If the pants don’t fit………Case dismissed!

    So now the local media is all abuzz that Ms Lohan is next in line to enjoy the hospitality of Sheriff Baca. Then, when she gets out, she can do the boo hoo hoo routine on “Larry King on Life Support”. At least the stupid shows like Access Hollywood with their boot-licking sycophant announcers like Pat O’Brien can keep their gigs a while longer. Me, I just wish Hollywood would pack up the whole operation and move the movie capital to Peoria. Access Peoria-How does that sound?

    fouse, gary c (629ad9)

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