A federal jury convicted former Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano and entertainment attorney Terry Christensen on Friday on conspiracy and wiretapping charges in connection with their illegal wiretapping of Lisa Bonder, the ex-wife of Christensen’s longtime client, billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, during a 2002 child support dispute.
The verdict in the six-week trial in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles marks the low-key end of a six-year criminal investigation that at one time seemed to ensnare many Hollywood power brokers and several top-tier entertainment attorneys. Ultimately, though, Christensen was the only high-profile showbiz lawyer to be indicted.
The attorney, who has many contacts in Hollywood and whose firm employs more than 100 attorneys, now faces up to 10 years in prison and the loss of his license to practice law. A number of civil lawsuits against Christensen and Pellicano are also pending.
The trial was the second this year for Pellicano, who represented himself with disastrous results in both cases. In May, a jury found Pellicano guilty on 76 counts of racketeering and wiretapping (Daily Variety, May 16). Christensen won an earlier motion allowing him to be tried separately from the main Pellicano case.
While the first Pellicano trial featured appearances by Garry Shandling, Chris Rock, Michael Ovitz and Brad Grey, the second attracted little media attention, apart from the brief testimony by former MGM owner Kerkorian. Acting essentially as a character witness, the 91-year-old mogul denied any knowledge of wiretapping and described his longtime attorney as honest and a true friend (Daily Variety, Aug. 21).
Christensen, a name partner at the well-known Century City law firm of Christensen, Glaser, Fink, Jacobs, Weil & Shapiro, and Pellicano, were found guilty of conspiring in the spring of 2002 to illegally wiretap the phone of Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, who was involved in hotly contested child support litigation with Christensen’s client, Kirk Kerkorian.
The government presented evidence that Christensen paid Pellicano at least $100,000 for the wiretap. The feds argued that Pellicano listened to Bonder Kerkorian’s phone calls and shared with Christensen information he learned from those calls, and that Christensen used that information — including info from privileged conversations with Bonder Kerkorian’s attorneys — to secure a tactical advantage in the litigation. The evidence included a series of 34 recordings that Pellicano made of his phone conversations with Christensen.
“Mr. Christensen completely disregarded his ethical oath as an attorney and repeatedly violated federal law,” U.S. attorney Thomas P. O’Brien said in a statement. “His shameful partnership with Anthony Pellicano to unlawfully wiretap an opposing party so he could gain the upper hand in civil litigation is reprehensible, and he will now be held accountable.” Both Pellicano cases were handled by assistant U.S. attorneys Daniel Saunders and Kevin Lally.
Patty Glaser, Christensen’s lead attorney, described the guilty verdict as a bump in the road, adding that they intended to appeal.
“There is an appeal on a myriad of grounds, and we’re going to fight this to the end,” she said.
At trial, Glaser contended that there was no evidence of wiretapping because the tapes were not of wiretaps but only those made secretly by Pellicano of his own conversations with Christensen. Glaser also argued that Pellicano’s loyalty to Christensen and his client was doubtful because Pellicano’s friend and former client was producer Steve Bing, who ultimately was proved to be the child’s biological father by DNA testing.
Pellicano is scheduled to be sentenced in both cases by U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer on Sept. 24. Christensen’s sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 17. The charges each carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, but Christensen faces far less prison time under the federal sentencing guidelines. Pellicano, with his prior convictions, faces at least 10 years.