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Masry Resumes Stand in Extortion Case

Courts: He tells of Brockovich's troubled relationships with former husband and ex-boyfriend, both accused of blackmail.

September 09, 2000|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

During a third day of testimony in the Erin Brockovich extortion case, lawyer Ed Masry testified about Brockovich's troubled relationships with her ex-husband and former lover, who are now accused of conspiracy and extortion.

Masry resumed the witness stand at a preliminary hearing for Brockovich's ex-husband Shawn Brown, 38, her former lover Jorg Halaby, 46, and attorney John Reiner, 52.

The three are accused of demanding $310,000 from Brockovich and Masry within weeks of the release of the movie "Erin Brockovich" by threatening to tell tabloids that she was a bad mother who had sex with Masry, her lawyer boss.

Under questioning by defense attorneys in Ventura County Superior Court, Masry painted a picture of four people who once got along as friends, but who now stand at opposite ends of a courtroom.

Masry recalled how Brockovich, a legal aide, let Brown live in her garage while sharing a home with Halaby several years ago.

Masry said he first met Brown after Brockovich persuaded him to represent Brown at his sentencing in a drunk-driving case. Masry said he later became a father figure to Brown, loaning him money and allowing his sister to live for free in a condominium owed by his firm.

Through the years, he counseled Brockovich and Brown in matters concerning their two children, now ages 14 and 17.

But a rift developed this year after the release of "Erin Brockovich," a movie starring Julia Roberts that tells the story of a twice-divorced mother whose work on a ground water pollution lawsuit helped win a $333-million settlement from Pacific Gas & Electric.

Brown isn't portrayed in the film. But there are references to an absent father, which upset him.

"Shawn made it clear he was unhappy with the movie," Masry testified.

When Brown asked Masry how he could be compensated for his version of the story, Masry suggested that he get a lawyer. From that point, he testified, there was friction between them.

"I'd say at the end of the conversation, we weren't as friendly as we were before," Masry said.

About the same time, Brown started to become friends with Halaby, Brockovich's ex-boyfriend, who filed a multimillion-dollar palimony suit against her four years ago, Masry said.

That friendship worried Brockovich, he testified.

"She did not trust Jorg Halaby at all," Masry said. "She wanted me to tell Shawn that she didn't want the kids around Jorg."

Defense attorneys introduced evidence of the parties' past relationships and questioned whether Masry and Brockovich were motivated by ill feelings toward the men in bringing the extortion accusations.

Los Angeles attorney Gary Lincenberg also questioned whether Masry had ever threatened Brown during disputes over the defendant's back child support payments.

At one point Friday, Lincenberg suggested that Masry and Brockovich may have drummed up the allegations to bolster her position in a pending child-custody case.

Defense attorneys say the three men have committed no crimes and were engaged in a legitimate business deal. They have accused Masry of manufacturing the high-profile case and manipulating prosecutors into filing it.

Testimony will resume Tuesday, at which time Superior Court Judge James P. Cloninger is expected to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to order the men to stand trial.

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