Ovitz, Weinraub and Busch to take stand
Will this be the week the Anthony Pellicano wiretapping trial finally delivers the goods?
So far, showbiz revelations on the stand have been minimal and courtroom appearances by the town’s biggest players mostly limited. But this week the feds plan to call three showbiz figures at the heart of the case to the stand: Michael Ovitz, Bernard Weinraub and Anita Busch.
Although previous high-profile witnesses generally gave low-key or almost mundane testimony — i.e. Chris Rock on Friday and Brad Grey on March 20 — next week’s trio has been part of the legal drama from the start.
Ovitz contacted Pellicano in April 2002, shortly after the two former journos wrote about his financial problems with Artists Management Group for the New York Times, and before long their names began popping up in Pellicano files. Last week, a former LAPD cop testified that she put Busch’s home under surveillance that May under Pellicano’s orders, although she did not know whose residence she was watching.
Busch, a former Variety scribe, set the case in motion in June 2002 when she was harassed while reporting a story about Steven Seagal for the Los Angeles Times; soon she learned her phone had been wiretapped. She is expected to testify about the damage her career has suffered since Pellicano’s investigations.
Testimony has been tawdry and occasionally titillating, not to mention incredibly tedious in patches, but the dirtiest laundry related to the case surfaced outside the courtroom on March 14, when Huffington Post blogger Allison Hope Weiner posted a 31 minute audio file of Chris Rock and Anthony Pellicano discussing a 1999 harassment report by a model that claimed that the comedian had impregnated her. Although the New York Times had posted brief excerpts from the leaked recording last year, when Weiner was still covering the story for the paper, it did not publish the more salacious details about DNA evidence model Monika Zsibrita supposedly preserved on a tissue, Monica Lewinsky-style.
Weiner, a lawyer turned scribe, is embroiled in a legal battle over her rights to publish Pellicano recordings with attorney Terry Christensen, a defendant in a separate trial about the P.I.’s investigations on behalf of Kirk Kerkorian over another paternity case.
The feds scrupulously avoided the salacious portions of Rock’s recording, focusing instead on the nature of his business arrangement with Pellicano during his brief appearance. Admonished by judge Dale S. Fischer to speak up when he first got on the stand, Rock began answering the questions of prosecutor Daniel Saunders in a subdued manner. But he really started to bristle during defense attorney Chad Hummel’s cross-examination.
Rock had testified that he sought Pellicano’s services at the advice of his attorney when a one-night stand kept insisting that he was father of her child. When Hummel, who’s repping Sgt. Mark Arneson, referred to Rock’s “belief” that he was not the father, the comedian got visibly annoyed.
“That was not a belief of mine,” Rock clarified, pointing out that two DNA tests had proven it to be the case.
When Hummel then probed why Rock thought the model’s claims were a shakedown, he replied: “Someone who was not pregnant with my child claimed to be pregnant with my child and requested large sums of money.”
After Rock left the packed courtroom, the feds played a one-minute excerpt from the recording, cutting off the tape before Pellicano began to detail the charges.
The full recording remains available on the Huffington Post, along with several other audio files found in Pellicano’s offices during a fed sweep.
Although some portions have been played in court, others have not.
In his temporary restraining order, served to Weiner at the courthouse Thursday morning, Christensen sought to permanently enjoin her from disseminating the audiotapes, and to have her ordered to return the three CDs with the recordings. He said he faced “ongoing irreparable harm” including his right to a fair trial.
On Friday, Weiner’s attorney Ted Boutrous Jr. filed a brief of his own, accusing Christensen of “an utterly transparent, and utterly unconstitutional, effort to chill speech and intimidate Ms. Hope Weiner and other journalists from reporting on the ongoing Pellicano trial and related proceedings.” The brief further questions the need for an expedited restraining order given the fact that the New York Times had already published the recordings a year ago. And indeed, audio portions of Christensen’s calls to Pellicano are still available on the paper’s website.
The trial resumes Tuesday morning. The feds expect to conclude their case later in the week, when lawyers repping Pellicano’s co-defendants will make their case. Pellicano is repping himself.