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Brockovich Defendants Granted Delay

Courts: Arraignment is postponed for three men accused of trying to extort money from the legal investigator who is now the subject of a movie.


Swarmed by TV cameras and reporters, three men accused of trying to extort money from movie subject Erin Brockovich appeared Wednesday in Ventura County Superior Court to be arraigned on felony charges.

But her ex-husband Shawn Brown, 38, ex-boyfriend Jorg Halaby, 46, and their attorney, John Reiner, 52, declined to enter pleas to charges of conspiracy and attempted extortion.

Lawyers for the three men sought a five-week postponement, saying they need additional time to review police reports, tape recordings and other evidence. Judge Art Gutierrez continued the arraignment to June 19.

Outside the courthouse, lawyers for Brown and Halaby denied allegations that the men tried to extort about $300,000 from Brockovich, a legal investigator whose work on a landmark court case inspired a hit movie starring Julia Roberts.

"It's a very upsetting situation," said Los Angeles attorney Joel R. Isaacson, who represents Brown, a carpet cleaner and Simi Valley resident.

Isaacson said his client never threatened to tell tabloids his ex-wife was a bad mother, and never demanded money from Brockovich and her boss, Westlake lawyer Ed Masry.

"He denies the charges," Isaacson said. "He is very scared. This is way out of his league."

Halaby, a Costa Mesa resident who was portrayed as the biker boyfriend in the current movie release "Erin Brockovich," left court with his attorney, Sheldon L. Levitin.

Levitin denied that his client tried to extort money and criticized Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury for appearing on a TV news magazine last week to discuss the case.

"We are going to seize the opportunity to prove our client's innocence in court," Levitin said. "And we'd appreciate it if Mr. Bradbury wouldn't appear on 'Dateline.' "

Media interest in Brockovich's real-life court case was evident during Wednesday's arraignment. About two dozen reporters and photographers crammed the hallway outside Gutierrez's first-floor courtroom, eagerly awaiting the defendants who are free on $50,000 bail each.

But the person they most wanted to see, Brockovich, did not attend the arraignment.

Thousand Oaks attorney Cathleen Drury, who is representing Brockovich in a child custody dispute with Brown, said her client believes prosecutors have a strong case and will prevail in court.

"Erin has the utmost confidence in the court system," Drury said, "in both her personal and professional life."

Brown, Halaby and Reiner were arrested April 26 in a videotaped law office sting in which Brockovich and Masry were present.

Authorities say the two men demanded money and threatened to tell tabloids that Brockovich was a bad mother who had slept with her boss. Brockovich and Masry say those accusations are untrue.

Brockovich and Masry helped win the largest settlement in the nation's history for a case that did not go before a jury. About $333 million was paid by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to more than 600 residents of Hinkley, Calif., in the alleged pollution of the community's ground water.

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