Wednesday, February 15, 2006

L.A. Attorney Charged With Conspiring with PI Pelicano -- What Did Ovitz Know About Pellicano's Peccadillos?

The Wall Street Journal reports (here) that Los Angeles attorney Terry Christensen, from the law firm Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro (yes, that's the Shapiro who was on the O.J. Simpson defense team), was charged with conspiring with private investigator Anthony Pellicano to tap the telephones of Lisa Bonder Kerkorian.  She is the ex-wife of billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, who has made headlines recently with his large investment in General Motors and efforts to shake-up the declining auto giant.  Christensen has represented Kerkorian for years, and served briefly as president of his holding company, Tracinda.  The alleged wiretap came while Christensen was involved in litigation against Mrs. Kerkorian related to threats against Kerkorian and a four-year old child who he thought was his daughter.  To make matters more complicated, or at least worthy of consideration in a future Desperate Housewives episode, it turns out the young girl was not Kerkorian's child, although she was born during the brief marriage.  Christensen's law firm denies that he did anything wrong.

Meanwhile, one-time super agent Michael Ovitz might be getting tired of testifying.  In 2005, Ovitz testified in Delaware Chancery Court as part of the breach of fiduciary duty shareholder suit against Disney's board related to the $140 million payout to Ovitz after his failed 14-month term as president of Disney.  Needless to say, he did not come out of that trial smelling like a rose, although the court found in favor of the company.  Now, a New York Times article (here) states that Ovitz testified before a federal grand jury in the summer of 2005 about his contacts with Pellicano, whose 110-count racketeering and wiretapping conspiracy indictment (here) was unsealed upon his release from federal prison, where he served over two years on a weapons charge.  The indictment alleges that Pellicano, along with a police officer and telephone company technician, tapped phones and conducted criminal background checks through data bases only available to law enforcement.  Pellicano was working for law firms involved in cases in the entertainment industry in representing their clients.  The Times notes that at least four of the instances alleged in the indictment involved cases in which Ovitz was a party, and the story discusses other instances in which a former agent from Ovitz's firm alleges that he learned of her secret conversations.  Like others who used Pellicano, Ovitz denied (through his attorney) that he had any knowledge of how Pellicano obtained information.

Are the Christensen charges a case of "hear no evil, see no evil"?  If Christensen (or Ovitz) received information about allegedly secret conversations, then it might be hard to deny having, at a minimum, suspicions about how Pellicano obtained the information.  Absent some discussion of wiretapping, however, it will be difficult to establish the agreement for a conspiracy.  Many of the cases mentioned in the Times article involving Ovitz in which Pellicano is alleged to have engaged in wrongdoing involved conducting criminal background checks on opponents through, for example, FBI's National Crime Information Center, which can only be done for official law enforcement purposes.  This is the type of stuff seen in almost every Rockford Files episode, and if it was all right for Jim Rockford, can it be said that someone like Ovitz should have known that what Pellicano was doing was illegal?  It may be that turning a blind eye to what a private investigator does is not unreasonable, and tough to prosecute criminally.  Of course, the entire calculus changes, and Hollywood will shudder collectively, if Pellicano decides to plead guilty and testify.  For a previous offender, a RICO conviction could trigger a substantial term of imprisonment, so there is a strong enticement to cooperate.  Could it be that the Christensen indictment is an indication that someone close to Pellicano, or even Pellicano himself, is cooperating in the investigation? (ph)

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