My LA Weekly colleague Steven Mikulan is covering the Christensen-Pellicano trial. Here is his first report:
“You have no idea how lucky you are out here – it’s torture!” Celebrity lawyer Robert Shapiro gave this assurance Tuesday to two U.S. Marshals sitting outside Judge Dale Fischer’s courtroom – where, inside, Anthony Pellicano was subjecting a witness to some verbal water-boarding. So far Pellicano II testimony has moved at a geological pace. This federal trial presents a kind of Odd Couple pairing (or is it The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant?), in which the bare-knuckled private eye Pellicano is a co-defendant with super-smooth litigation attorney Terry Christensen. The two men are accused of wiretapping and conspiracy in support of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian’s toxic child-custody fight with ex-wife Lisa Bonder in 2002.
Shapiro and other defense lawyers connected to Christensen or his actual law firm Christensen, Glaser, Fink, Jacobs, Weil & Shapiro seemed perplexed by what the rest of us – judge, prosecutors and media alike — had come to take for granted during Pellicano’s first trial, which ended in May with Pellicano’s 76 guilty verdicts. Over and over Tuesday did Pellicano, acting again as his own attorney, split hairs and infinitives with government witness Jeffrey Edwards, a software engineer, during Pellicano’s cross-examination about the computer source code of his Telesleuth wiretapping program. Christensen attorneys Patty Glaser and Terree Bowers looked stunned as they became familiar with Pellicano’s Jesuitical interrogation techniques – Glaser’s eyes glazed, Bowers bowed and Christensen became Christlike in his martyr’s acceptance of Pellicano’s tedious questioning.
Although the trial’s first day brought in many local reporters as well as writers for New York papers and the wires, the media now have all but completely decamped this scene of deadening repetition. An exception is the Daily Journal’s Robert Iafolla, who is often the only media presence in court. One thing the first trial had going for it were its tawdry moments of unpredictable salaciousness. With Pellicano II, however, both sides seem dedicated to ironing out any excitement of the crime narrative. In some ways the current trial is like the same movie as shot by two different directors, as when Paul Schrader and Renny Harlin both made versions of The Exorcist a few years ago. But perhaps that’s giving this trial too much credit – Pellicano I and II are like “the two Darrins,” à la Bewitched.
Tomorrow things should perk up a bit with the appearance of Stephen Kolodny — Lisa Bonder’s lawyer during her no-holds-barred fight with Kirk Kerkorian. And, if we’re lucky – or awake – we’ll also hear the first of the six and a half hours of phone conversations between Pellicano and Christensen, which allegedly were secretly recorded by Pellicano. During her opening trial statement, Patty Glaser, clearly familiar with those conversations, warned jurors of the salty badinage they’d be hearing once these recordings were played back. “You’re going to hear coarse language,” Glaser said, “that maybe you and I wouldn’t use.” This comment could be both trial’s most far-fetched declaration and its biggest understatement.
“Bring me the father. Bring me the father’s head on a platter. Because there is like more than a hundred thousand in it for you, okay?” Thus spake über attorney Terry Christensen in 2002 as he hired super sleuth Anthony Pellicano to discover the true paternity of the daughter of Christensen’s client, billionaire Kirk Kerkorian.
As Christensen and Pellicano began trial on two federal counts apiece of wiretapping and conspiracy, the men’s phone conversations, secretly recorded by Pellicano, were splashed across a courtroom screen. Already the trial is shaping up as a battle of transcripts and how to interpret them — the above quote was offered by Christensen’s defense.
Pellicano was convicted in May of 76 felony counts involving wiretapping, conspiracy and racketeering. Last week, early in the morning on July 17th, he was brought from his downtown Los Angeles prison cell to be tried with Christensen in a case stemming from the down-and-dirty child-support battle involving Kirk Kerkorian and ex-tennis pro Lisa Bonder Kerkorian. In her opening statement, Christensen lawyer Patty Glaser immediately tossed Pellicano a lead lifesaver by announcing that Christensen – a partner in Glaser’s very own firm of Christensen, Glaser, Fink, Jacobs, Weil and Shapiro — had never hired Pellicano to wiretap anyone and that throughout the pair’s business relationship Pellicano had conned her colleague on behalf of another client of Pellicano’s — film and real estate mogul Steve Bing.
For 100 minutes Glaser quoted Christensen to show how clueless he was to Pellicano’s illegal wiretapping activities. If Christensen sounded rough, however, his words were no match for quotes Glaser provided from Lisa Bonder. “When that motherfucker calls,” Bonder was quoted on Glaser’s PowerPoint screen, “tell him I killed the fucking baby! The baby is dead!”
Some may put Bonder’s outburst down to postpartum depression, but later Glaser quoted her as calling a lawyer and telling the attorney she was on her way to Kerkorian’s home to kill him. “We will show that Lisa Bonder had threatened violence against Mr. Kerkorian and her own daughter,” Glaser told jurors. “And I mean violence– the K Word. To kill.”
It was only 9:15 on the morning of the first day of a trial that promises to be one very bumpy ride — and a lesson in what happens when too much money mixes with sex, megalomania and digital technology.