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Santa Ana Lawyer Has Writing on Her Personal Docket

February 19, 1988|JOSEPH N. BELL

Pamela Trescott just can't seem to kick her Orange County roots.

Since growing up in Anaheim, she has taken off to help Ronald Reagan move into the White House, learned Mandarin so she could deal directly with the Chinese for the U.S. Department of Commerce and written two books on such disparate subjects as diplomatic immunity and Cary Grant--among a lot of other things.

But when she got tired of the writing regimen and decided a few months ago to pick up her law practice for the third or fourth time, she chose Santa Ana "because I have lots of associations, lots of friendships there."

When Trescott talks, the listener gets breathless. An enormously energetic woman in her early 40s, Trescott has dipped into so many activities, rocked so many boats, tossed off so many achievements that they begin to sound almost mundane. (Doesn't everyone write a book if the spirit moves the person?) Especially when rendered between bites of salad at a local restaurant where she has rushed after a long morning in a Santa Ana courtroom.

Her conversation is like quicksilver, running through the fingers. But her accomplishments are solid, the result of a kind of bulldog tenacity and determination. Especially in the area of diplomatic immunity.

The small cadre of diplomats' relatives and staff members of diplomatic missions in the United States who have chosen to flaunt their diplomatic immunity should have planted a sign in front of Trescott's Washington townhouse saying, "Don't burgle." But one of them did--and got her dander up.

"They trashed my apartment," she recalls, "and when the police got there and checked it out, they told me they knew who did it--and they couldn't do anything about it. That's when I really began to understand the nature of diplomatic immunity."

The townhouse next door was a chancery of the Dominican Republic. One of the staff members, says Trescott, had simply placed a ladder on Dominican soil, leaned it against Trescott's apartment, climbed in a window and helped himself.

This was during Trescott's Commerce Department period, and she went to work the next day full of outrage. What she discovered--to her surprise and consternation--was that virtually everyone who heard her story promptly topped it with tales of being run into, burgled, beaten up and even raped by people with diplomatic immunity.

"So," she said, "I started to collect stories and do some research. I found that immunity worked OK when the diplomatic service was narrowly construed. But now it covers huge retinues of staff and family and it doesn't work very well at all. And we get a double dose in this country because we not only have all the diplomatic postings but the U.N. ambassadors and their staffs as well."

About the same time, Trescott's husband, Chuck Ashman--an internationally known and respected investigative journalist and biographer--interviewed a New York City woman who had been beaten, robbed and raped by the son of a low-ranking U.N. delegate. The police caught him, tied him to several other rapes, then had to release him when he claimed diplomatic immunity. He departed the United States, grinning cheerfully from the steps of the airliner. Ashman remembers that grin.

Because, said Trescott, "we thought it would be easier to get things changed in England," she and her husband directed their early research to diplomatic crimes committed in England. The result was a book called "Outrage" that was well enough received that Trescott and Ashman decided to redo it for an American audience, using only crimes committed by diplomats, their families and staff in the United States. Called "Diplomatic Crimes" (Acropolis Books Ltd.), the book was published last fall. Said Trescott (who is presently working on a TV treatment) wryly: "We wouldn't have to make anything up to keep it on the air for years."

She hasn't received a sales report yet, but the book--along with her untiring efforts in public speeches and congressional hearings--sparked the first attempt by lawmakers to assess diplomatic immunity since it was defined by the Vienna Conventions on Consular and Diplomatic Relations in 1961 and 1963. Last summer, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-S.C.) introduced a bill that would restrict diplomatic immunity to diplomatic agents and consular officers, removing the blanket of protection now thrown around staff members and families. The State Department resisted, and the bill died in committee. "But," said Trescott, "it will be reintroduced."

That kind of determination has been a prime catalyst for Pamela Trescott since she was a child. It just took awhile for the muscle to catch up with the determination. She was born in Rhode Island and grew up in Anaheim, where she was a member of the first graduating class of Western High School.

"I was a little skinny kid nobody ever looked at," she said. "I'd been jumped a grade a couple of times, so I had just turned 16 when I graduated." She didn't have a shot at valedictorian "because I never made it in gym class."

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