Journalist and attorney Allison Hope Weiner is a special correspondent to Deadline and files this exclusive report:
Although former Hollywood private eye and convicted wiretapper Anthony Pellicano is behind bars, he’s not forgotten. As soon as the criminal portion of the Pellicano scandal was over, a judge lifted the 4-year stay on the civil lawsuits brought against the former private eye, the telephone company, the city of Los Angeles, and many of Pellicano’s former clients. The most interesting to the showbiz community is the one by Anita Busch, the former entertainment journalist whose allegations of wiretapping and harassment against the ex-P.I. prompted authorities to first search Pellicano’s office and start all his legal troubles. After Busch discovered she was wiretapped and found a dead fish on her car windshield along with a threat followed by harrassment, Busch filed a civil lawsuit against Pellicano and others including the P.I.’s former client Michael Ovitz. Her civil complaint was later amended to give more detailed allegations.
Although Busch’s naming the one-time CAA founder/Disney president/AMG manager/now private investor was highly publicized when first filed in 2006, a judge held that the civil lawsuits had to wait until the criminal proceedings against Pellicano and his cohorts were concluded. Since the lifting of the stay late last year, Anita’s lawsuit is now in full throttle. Day One of Anita’s deposition was completed in April (she showed up in a wheelchair). She’s expected to return for additional intense questioning. After that’s completed, Ovitz will get his turn in the hot seat for a deposition.
During the first day of Anita Busch’s deposition, Ovitz’s Brown Woods & George law firm civil attorney civil Eric George (who continues to represent Ovitz despite this lawsuit involving his former firm, EXCLUSIVE: Michael Ovitz Sued For Owing $203K Legal Fees In Pellicano Scandal Litigation) questioned Anita extensively about her reporting on a story about former action star Steven Seagal and his business partner Jules Nasso and alleged mob ties. I’ve learned that based on the tone and tenure of George’s questioning, it appears that Ovitz will claim that either Jules Nasso or Steven Seagal paid Pellicano to terrorize and wiretap Anita Busch. As everyone may recall, federal investigators initially believed that Steven Seagal was the one who hired Pellicano to terrorize Busch. (Seagal’s name was on the subpoena allowing the FBI to raid the P.I.’s offiice in 2002.)
When Ovitz was initially questioned by the FBI during the Pellicano investigation, he denied having any knowedge of Pellicano’s wiretapping of Busch or anyone else. He told authorities that, while he disliked Busch’s one-time writing partner Bernie Weinraub for a series of New York Times articles about Ovitz, he’d always considered Busch a friend. However, in notes taken by FBI agents during their interviews with Ovitz, the feds wrote that Ovitz admitted that he’d hired Pellicano to dig up dirt on a list of showbiz enemies that included Busch. Ovitz admitted to authorities that he and Pellicano had come up with around 20 individuals whom Ovitz thought were spreading negative stories about him. Busch’s name was on that list along with Weinraub’s, CAA agents Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane, and billionaires Ron Burkle and David Geffen, and others.
Despite Ovitz’s admissions to federal agents, he was still a witness for the prosecution at Pellicano’s criminal trial. Ovitz denied any knowledge of Pellicano’s wiretapping or Busch’s allegations. However, later in the trial, the case’s lead FBI agent Stan Ornellas took the witness stand and recounted in detail how recorded conversations with Alex Proctor, the man convicted of carrying out the dead fish threat, targeted Pellicano as behind the threatening of Anita Busch and that led to the raid on Pellicano’s office in 2002. Ornellas also testified that he later learned after a probe that was done of the illegal LAPD data base searches ordered by Pellicano that Seagal was not the one who hired Pellicano to carry out a threat against Anita Busch. But asked by prosecuting attorney Kevin Lally who was at the heart of Pellicano’s current problems, “That individual was Mr. Ovitz,” Ornellas replied.
Later, during cross examination, one of the defense attorneys also quizzed Ornellas about Ovitz, asking if it was possible that Ovitz had nothing to do with the threat against Anita Busch. “Yeah, it’s possible,” Ornellas replied. Also on cross-examination, one of the defense attorneys asked Ornellas: “Is it possible Mr. Ovitz hired Mr. Pellicano … but had nothing to do with the threats?” To which Ornellas replied, “Yes.”
It’s obvious from the language in Ovitz’s amended answer to Busch’s amended complaint that he intends to fight her lawsuit by arguing that Seagal and/or Nasso were responsible for the wiretapping and the harassment. Ovitz’s written answer to Busch’s amended complaint is telling in that it asserts a series of affirmative defenses — including that the former journalist’s lawsuit is barred by the statute of limitations, that Busch failed to mitigate her damages, and that if she was actually damaged then someone else other than Ovitz is responsible, and that Busch’s own negligence contributed to some of her alleged damages.
But Ovitz’s answer also throws Busch an unexpected curveball, alleging the always popular “assumption of the risk” defense in which Ovitz claims that, if Anita was actually injured, she had full knowledge of the risk, dangers and hazards involved in journalism and nevertheless “assumed the risk of loss to herself”.
Although Busch refused to discuss Ovitz’s defense or the details of her own complaint, she said in a statement to me that, “It’s outrageous for Michael Ovitz or his attorneys to say that I assumed the risk when Ovitz hired a thug like Pellicano to go after me.” She added that, “No one assumes the risk of criminal acts. This is not a third world country where reporters expect to be terrorized for reporting the news.”
Ovitz’s lawyer Eric George responded to Busch’s statement by telling me: “We sympathize with Ms. Busch, and the other victims of the criminal conduct which has resulted in several convictions to date. But for Ms. Busch to seek damages from Mr. Ovitz, who had no involvement whatsoever in that conduct, is both regrettable and misdirected.”