A month and a half after allegedly choking out the VP of Paramount Digital Entertainment and Insurge Pictures at a Sundance party in Park City, the Into The Wild actor was back in town today to appear before a judge on charges of aggravated assault and intoxication. Emile Hirsch faces up to five years behind bars and a $5,000 fine on the third-degree felony charge and 90 days in jail and a $750 fine on the misdemeanor that occurred in the early morning of January 25. He was in Judge Kara Pettit’s courtroom Monday morning for an initial appearance – the first hearing for anyone charged with a felony in Utah and one for which defendants are expected to be in court. Today’s short proceedings also saw the actor having to go to the Summit County jail Monday morning to have his picture taken and be fingerprinted – which wasn’t done in January.
Accompanied by his Salt Lake City attorney Neil Kaplan and two other lawyers, the suit-and-tie-wearing Hirsch waived formal reading of the charges against him for the incident with executive Dani Bernfeld at TAO nightclub during the Sundance Film Festival. The next step is an April 13 roll call hearing, which is similar to a status conference on how the case will go forward. Ryan Stack is prosecuting for the Summit County Attorney’s Office.
Hirsch was charged in mid-February for the January incident, which Park City police were called to investigate. The actor, who is in rehab, was at Sundance for the premiere of the drama Ten Thousand Saints, in which he co-stars with Ethan Hawke.
At around 3:15 AM on January 25, a seemingly drunk Hirsch approached Bernfeld at the film party and asked why she looked “so tough” and that she was “a rich kid” who shouldn’t have been at the indie-themed festival, according to charging documents (read them here). Bernfeld pushed Hirsch away, but the actor returned “shortly thereafter” and came up behind the exec and “put her in a chokehold.” He then pulled her over the table she was sitting at and on to the floor where “on top of Bernfeld he wrapped his hands around her neck.” Feeling that “the front and back of her throat were touching,” the exec might have “blacked out” just before people pulled Hirsch off her and the cops were called. At the time, Hirsch told police on the scene that he was in a “verbal confrontation” with Bernfeld, who he said he didn’t actually know. The police said Hirsch was slurring, smelled of booze and his “eyes were red and glossy.” The actor told PCPD that he had three or four drinks before the incident. Later, Hirsch said he had no memory of what happened.
Today’s hearing was the beginning of a process that will see a number of appearances in the case on the court’s calendar in the coming months, few of which Hirsch will attend. Late last month, the actor’s lawyers filed paperwork requesting permission for Hirsch not to have to appear in person. The filing asked for the rehabbing Hirsch to be “excused from attending the following hearings: Any status/pre-trial conference prior to June 8, 2015, with the exception of, and contingent upon, my attendance at the initial appearance scheduled on March 6 at 8:30 AM.” Judge Todd Shaughnessy granted the request. Hirsch could have faced a warrant for his arrest if he hadn’t shown up for the hearings and Shaughnessy hadn’t granted the request.
In movie and other similar matters, Hirsch is repped by UTA and Robert Offer at Beverly Hills law firm Sloane Offer.