Wednesday, March 1, 2006

L.A. Divorce Lawyer Is a Subject of the Pellicano Investigation, But That May Not Mean Much

Los Angeles divorce lawyer Dennis Wasser, whose clients have included Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg, may be caught up in the burgeoning investigation spawned by the secret wiretapping and government data base inquiries of former PI Anthony Pellicano.  An LA Times story (here) states that prosecutors informed Wasser that he is a "subject" of the grand jury investigation that appears to be related to the recent indictment of another Los Angeles attorney, Terry Christensen, whose involvement with Pellicano relates to the divorce proceeding of billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian.   

What does it mean to be a "subject" of a grand jury investigation?  It is certainly not comforting, but the Department of Justice's definition in the U.S. Attorney's Manual (here) is quite broad: "A 'subject' of an investigation is a person whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury's investigation."  Given the breadth of the grand jury's investigative power -- to inquire into any possible violation of federal law, or to assure itself that there has not been a violation -- being a subject does not necessarily indicate that the person will be charged with a crime, or that their conduct is anything more than a tangential part of the investigation.  Unlike a target, "a person as to whom the prosecutor or the grand jury has substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime and who, in the judgment of the prosecutor, is a putative defendant," a subject could turn out to be a witness whose involvement does not involve any criminal conduct. 

On a related note, Peter Lattman on the Wall Street Journal Law Blog points out (here) that Wasser's attorney's firm has "an interminable law-firm name that once again seems to uphold our theory about Hollywood lawyers needing to see their name in lights."  Remember, it is Hollywood, so no doubt the story has already been optioned by a studio. (ph)

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