Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Lawyer Says Masry Concocted Charges

Preliminary hearing: Advocate for one of three men accused of extortion says the Westlake Village attorney was trying to shield himself from a lawsuit by a former law clerk.

September 07, 2000|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Westlake Village attorney Ed Masry accused three men of extortion to prevent them from joining ranks with a 21-year-old female law clerk who had threatened to file a $15-million sexual harassment lawsuit against him, a lawyer argued Wednesday.

It was among the defense theories introduced during a combative preliminary hearing for alleged co-conspirators Shawn Brown, 38, Jorg Halaby, 46, and John Reiner, 52, in Ventura County Superior Court.

They are accused of trying to extort $310,000 from Masry and fellow movie subject Erin Brockovich in exchange for not telling tabloids Masry and Brockovich had a sexual relationship.

But defense attorneys say the case is not that simple.

They contend Brown, Brockovich's ex-husband, and Reiner, Brown's attorney, were engaged in a legitimate business deal to secure Brown's movie rights and had sought Masry's help because he had negotiated similar contracts.

Halaby, Brockovich's ex-boyfriend, later joined in the purported deal, which defense attorneys say Masry has twisted out of context for his personal gain.

On Wednesday, Masry resumed the witness stand after a monthlong break in the proceedings and denied defense allegations that he manipulated a criminal investigation.

During a contentious four-hour cross-examination, Los Angeles attorney Gary Lincenberg, who represents Reiner, attacked Masry's credibility and motives.

At one point, Lincenberg suggested Masry was trying to "go after" the defendants and had given starkly different statements to authorities about the alleged extortion plot.

He also theorized that Masry was trying to shield himself from potential monetary damages in an unrelated lawsuit with former law clerk Kissandra Cohen.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Frawley objected to the line of questioning as irrelevant and inappropriate.

"It is clear to me this is an attempt just to embarrass Mr. Masry," the prosecutor argued.

Cohen sued Masry for sexual harassment and wrongful termination in late April after Masry sued her for slander over remarks she allegedly made about Masry and Brockovich having a sexual relationship.

In court Wednesday, Masry called those allegations "the height of stupidity."

But Lincenberg pressed on, arguing that Masry filed his slander suit the same day Reiner contacted him about a possible contract for Brown, who was upset at his portrayal in the Universal Pictures film "Erin Brockovich" starring Julia Roberts.

When Reiner indicated during the April 11 call that Brown was ready to talk to the press, Masry assumed the worst based on his dealings with Cohen, Lincenberg argued.

"Mr. Masry turns this into something in his mind where this is all going to be about sex," Lincenberg said.

But Ventura County Superior Court Judge James P. Cloninger wasn't buying it. "Mr. Lincenberg, I am at a loss to follow your reasoning," he said, sustaining a prosecution objection to the Cohen evidence.

Throughout the day, Frawley repeatedly objected to Lincenberg's questions and Cloninger twice asked Masry to leave the courtroom while the lawyers argued the admissibility of defense evidence.

Later in the day, Masry stood outside the courtroom and spoke briefly about the case and the questions posed by Lincenberg--the first of three lawyers who will question Masry this week. Testimony is scheduled to resume Friday.

"I am an old soldier at this," Masry said. "I see where the defense is going. I think defense counsel are doing as good a job as they can with what they've got."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|